“We got quite close and would love to have got us there, it is just gutting…” – Not often do you see a seasoned cricketer like James Anderson break down after a Test match. He has always been a tough character and perhaps one of the few English cricketers who deserves a bit more praise than most of his hyped countrymen. It’s a tough time to be an English sports fan – with the football team knocked out of the World Cup and the cricket team facing a reality check, Andy Murray (yes, he’s Scottish, so what?) seems to be the only hope for the entire Empire.
It’s a tough time to be an English sports fan – with the football team knocked out of the World Cup and the cricket team facing a reality check, Andy Murray (yes, he’s Scottish, so what?) seems to be the only hope for the entire Empire.
That’s the problem with England – high expectations that yield in minimalistic results. Their media normally hype their stars to be world-beaters only to fall flat on their faces. But the world is used to it, means after they declared Graeme Hick as the true heir to Don Bradman’s throne, who would take them seriously anyway.
This time though, they adopted a different approach. They tagged both their cricket and football teams to be “work in progress”. The football team performed (?) as expected but the nation received a major jolt after Alastair Cook’s men faced a surprise loss in both the Test and ODI series against Sri Lanka.
Even with an ‘under construction’ team, they didn’t think that they would be beaten by Sri Lanka in both formats of the game. Sri Lanka landed the initial blows in the ODIs and then fired a combination to the gut in the Test series that rattled Cook and his men. Cook didn’t see it coming, England didn’t see it coming and that’s why a player of Anderson’s calibre broke down.
And now India should take advantage of it. England is hurt and India should deliver the knockout punch in the upcoming 5-Test series.
This July would be interesting as two of the Big Three in cricket lock horns with each other. Although India and England dominate the cricket empire, in the board rooms, both the teams look shaky and lack experience when the coloured pyajamas give way to white flannels.
As Sourav Ganguly says in the promo –“It will be the test of Pujara’s resilience against Broad’s ferocity, a test of Virat’s class against Anderson’s skill” – it will be and all the players mentioned will impact the upcoming Test series.
However, the series will be decided by two men – Alastair Cook and MS Dhoni. The jury is still out on both of them as Test match captains and this series will be the BIG test for both of them.
England are without a win in the last eight Test matches and their captain is woefully out of form. This has to be the worst phase of Alastair Cook’s life. Once hailed as England’s finest, Cook is now tagged as a weak and a conservative captain. He is under immense pressure and it’s telling on him. It hurts when your team is tagged as “Captain Cook’s Comedy Circus”. The wound deepens when the ex-cricketers launch assaults by calling you “confused and boring”. Although Cook put up a brave face and refused to quit as a captain, these personal attacks are not easy to deal with.
But then again, the criticisms are harsh but not wrong.
Cook’s captaincy is bland and blows hot and cold just like his batting. So, when Shane Warne mocks at him, calls him Alastair ‘Cooked’ Cook and questions his frame of mind, one can’t really blame the ‘blonde bamboozler’.
To be fair to Cook, he is leading a team in transition and failures are par for the course but it is his approach that is downright insipid and he gives in too easily. He looks great when things go his way but at crunch moments, loses his bearings. His shoulders drop too fast and he is clueless when his team is under the cosh. He and his team were battered and bruised in Australia and this Sri Lanka series was a perfect platform for him to bounce back but his conservative ways gave the Lankans a respite, every time in both Tests.
What next for Cook? Can he get break out of his conservative approach?
Welcome to my part of the world, Al – that’s exactly what MS Dhoni must be thinking. From being a World Cup winner to being alleged of match fixing – MS Dhoni has seen it all. To top it off, now, just before the most important series of the year, the Andhra Pradesh court has issues an arrest warrant for him, but as usual, Dhoni is on the silent mode.
Indian’s have never been brilliant at verbal battles and Dhoni’s ‘keep calm’ attitude has worked well when situations have been loaded in favour of his side. But there are times when you need to go on the offensive even before the coin has been flipped. The English captain is ailing and India has already missed a trick. The sympathy of Duncan Fletcher towards Cook has marked a boring and defensive beginning.
That’s where Sri Lanka scored the brownie points. The entire Paul Fabrace fiasco had the islanders fired up and they were in the mood for a knife-fight. They didn’t bother about diplomacy and didn’t care about sportsman’s spirit. They had an answer to everything that England threw at them. They fought hard, showed intent and Mankaded to leave England listless on their own backyard.
Most importantly, their captain led from the front. Yes, Kumar Sangakkara was on a dream run but it was Angelo Mathews who stole the show both on and off-the-field. He has always been one of those who have flattered to deceive but this time, the captaincy brought the best out of this all-rounder. He batted brilliantly, bowled effectively but most importantly, lead his team with great authority. He seized every big moment and turned the tide in Sri Lanka’s favour.
And to win this series, Dhoni need to take the Mathews route. During his first press conference in 2007, the long-maned Indian skipper asked for 15 cricketers who would jump in front of a truck if he asked them too. Back then Dhoni was a street fighter. He was intuitive but had a brassiness that made him fearless.
Then he turned suave. That in turn made him conservative and cost India a few overseas Test wins. The time is ripe for Dhoni to get back to his street fighting days and bring back the unpredictability that made him such a great leader.
But can MS Dhoni do a Mathews?
He can because he has the acumen, the smartness and the experience. Moreover, this time he has a score to settle, a stain to remove and a legacy to rewrite.