‘You can’t make a racing horse out of non-thoroughbred’

By Ashis Ray, IANS

London : When will the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) realise that they cannot produce batsmen of quality or prevent retrogression among wielders of the willow unless the national side stop engaging in an excess of limited overs cricket on flat pitches? They probably never will as long as efficient and knowledgeable people don't control this body.

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It has been starkly evident in the current test match against England that even the best of Indian batsmen are challenged if the ball is swinging. And the leather will continue to deviate in the air unless a greater part of a day's sunshine beats down on the green and wholly extracts the moisture underneath the surface. As long as there's evaporation, the ball will bend.

Indian batsmen have become so accustomed to playing in perfect batting conditions – which is what they mostly experience in one-day – that they struggle to cope with anything other than these. One shudders to think how they would have fared in the era of uncovered wickets!

You can't make a racing horse out of a non-thoroughbred. But the lackadaisical fielding and the ill-directed bowling are indicative of a soft diktat. This can only be cured by strict discipline and a sharp cricketing brain.

England's two most effective swing bowlers in recent years have been Mathew Hoggard and Simon Jones. The latter, in fact, moved the ball at 90 mph against Australia two years ago, which played a significant part in deciding that series in England's favour.

This summer, in the absence of the more reputed new ball bowlers, Ryan Sidebottom has proved to be an inspired choice. He's curved the ball perfectly and curved it late. He troubled the West Indies earlier in the season and was potentially a threat to India; he's so far proved to be so.

On the other hand, Anderson, returning for national duty, has been a revelation. England's selectors reposed plenty of faith in him after he decimated Pakistan in the 2003 World Cup. But he failed to make the transition from promise to fulfilment. Injuries disrupted his action and control. Unfortunately for India, he chose this test to produce one of his best performances.

Both Sidebottom and Anderson are better swing bowlers than the South Africans who confronted India at Belfast three weeks ago. Thus success against the latter was not a surety of dominance against England.

Arguably, even Australia would have struggled in circumstances where the ball didn't stop swinging in the entirety of the 77 odd overs of the Indian first innings. Indeed, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly were victims of superlative balls from Anderson, while V.V.S. Laxman was a casualty of a combination of seam movement and the diagonal line of a left-arm medium pacer like Sidebottom.

In the circumstances, Wasim Jaffer, who top-scored with 58 in the Indian innings, acquitted himself with credit; but Mahendra Dhoni was abysmal. He has either not understood or refused to learn that batting outside the sub-continent in a test match is a different ball game. His leaden-footed approach coupled with incorrect shot selection makes him a sitting duck in a testing situation.

As for the Indian bowling, Sreesanth looks wild as compared to his showing in South Africa over the winter; and unsettled in the face of left-handers. And Zaheer Khan is a bundle of fluctuations. They have wasted the most favourable conditions in both innings.

Lord's has, sadly, been a crematorium for Indian cricket. India have lost 10 out of 14 tests here. It will need a Herculean effort to prevent another embarrassment.