The title to the article is unique – for it has never been used in the history when an Indian cricket team toured England. The NatWest 2002 trophy, Champions Trophy 2013 and Champions Trophy 2017 are memorable occasions when India has performed exceedingly well in English conditions. But to be honest, the English team in all those tournaments wasn’t dominating the white-ball cricket as they are doing it now. England white-washed Australia, 6-0. It was more of a drubbing for Australia. It was as if Australia forgot to bat, bowl and field. Captain Tim Paine mentioned one of the matches to be his toughest day in cricket. They were murdered. The England juggernaut was rolling.
England’s development as a limited overs cricketing side and India’s performance in South Africa, 2018 bi-lateral series is expected to be the ‘most-talked’ series in world cricket. Before even India arrived in Ireland, the English media was mulling over in coffee shops and writing epics on, “How will Indian batsmen fare to the pace and bounce?” , “Will Virat and his team have 2014 series on their mind when they take the field?”. It felt like most of the articles were straight from the archives. I am pretty sure some articles used the ‘find & replace’ option to replace Sachin with Virat, Dravid with Pujara / Rohit (depending on the format) and any year in the 1990s with 2004.
India started off the T-20 series with a bang. English batsmen were caught like a hare in headlights when Kuldeep was bowling – not knowing where the ball will turn. Joe Root, England’s most prolific batsman (as per English media) did not read a wrong one from the mystery spinner. England was caught off-guard. Later, KL Rahul put up an exhibition of his flamboyant stroke-play. India steam-rolled England in the first T-20I at Old Trafford. English fans and media were taken by surprise. All they could write about was how special Kuldeep and Rahul were. Such was the disappointment, every English cricket journalist I follow on Twitter put up reactions to England’s victory over Colombia in FIFA WC2018. But no one talked about the adaptability of Indian cricket team to the English conditions, a topic every media person has loved to speak and write about, over the years.
I felt India did not read the conditions right in the 2nd T20I at Cardiff. With small straight boundaries and a short leg-side boundary, Indian think tank made erroneous decisions. Starting Chahal from an end with a short leg-side boundary, Rohit and Rahul going for an expansive pull and drive, respectively, on a wicket that had something for the fast bowlers and bowling Kuldeep out at the wrong time. Kohli was quick to learn where he went wrong, something, which has been a big part of the team meetings over the past couple of years. India could have read the conditions better and played an extra seamer. But to be fair, England did manage to make the chase of a mediocre 150-odd runs a bit exciting.
The 3rd T20I is what this article is predominantly about. Team selection was a demonstration of the fact that Indian cricket is here to play as per the conditions (include ground size) rather than the team. In the press conference, Ravi Shastri mentioned about the team’s objective to play the conditions rather than individual players. I feel that is the major reason, we, in Indian media have stopped talking about, “How our bowlers will keep a batsman quiet?”. Shastri’s comment echoed that we do not care who the team is, we are going to select and play a team that we think is going to get us ten wickets. Going with that sentiment, India dropped out Kuldeep (reasons: short boundaries) from the 3rd T20I & went in with Siddharth Kaul. At the same time, a message was sent out to Chahal that he is considered to be a better defensive bowler than anyone else. I think it was more because Chahal has the experience of playing at Bengaluru – a stadium about 60% of Eden Gardens, Kuldeep’s IPL home-ground. India did not go in with emotions, which has been a thing of the past for Indian cricket. Players were included in the XI based on their reputation rather than the conditions. India losing to Pakistan in CT-2017 was a wake-up call. Ashwin and Jadeja had to make way for more effective Chahal and Kuldeep.
The second half of the 3rd T20I was an exhibition of fearless, clean stroke-play. Rohit Sharma at his supreme best notching up his third T20 hundred, Kohli doing what he does best – scoring runs in chases and Pandya just admonishing the English attack. Over the years, Indian cricket has made as many attempts to find a bowling all-rounder as NASA has made to prove life on Mars. It can be concurred now, that, both have been successful. Hardik Pandya was exemplary in South Africa and was mighty impressive in this T20I series. He went for 22 off his 1st over and came back to bowl a three-over spell for 4/16. The impressive part was his attitude with which he fired in those good-length deliveries and wide yorkers. While batting, he made the very much spoken about “white-ball attack of England” like a 2nd tier club bowling unit. It is safe to say that Hardik Pandya is developing into what India has been asking since the 1990s – a Kapil Dev.
India seems to have taken a leaf out of the Mike Hesson’s New Zealand team that played the T20 WC in India. NZ focused on playing the conditions rather than the individuals in the opposition. It served them well, and it seems like the whole ideology is serving Indian cricket giving them great results. Not many from the English broadcasting unit and media expected England to go down 2-1 to India. One-day series is going to be epic – exclaimed Nasser, on air. In some corner of his cricket sub-conscious, he knows it is going to extraordinarily difficult for the English team to overcome India – that relishes being in tough situations. We will see how that goes in the coming week.
English media started the “It’s coming home” as a mere light-hearted joke towards England’s FIFA campaign. I am not quite sure about England’s FIFA WC chances. India’s performance at the start of the tour has given a glimmering hope, that maybe this is the time it’s coming home.