When England play France in a soccer friendly, they don't muck around.
By Suresh Menon
The KSCA Stadium in Bangalore was packed for the India-Australia match, which, of course was of no significance except to the players. It was rather like watching an actor rehearse his lines or a singer go, “Mike testing 1,2,3...’’
Actors preparing can be an interesting spectacle, but 13 players of one team taking on 12 players from the opposition in a 11-player team game is hardly that.
The question is: Why damn these matches as ‘warm up’ games? Why not have full internationals instead? India play two matches, against Australia and New Zealand, and that should give them enough opportunity to try out all their players in the most likely combinations.
Soccer, a sport cricket can learn much from when it comes to administration, has got it right. ‘Friendlies’ between countries are full internationals. When England play France in a friendly, they don’t muck around. They play it seriously as befits an international, and the statistics go into the record books.
Cricket’s ‘warm-up’ games lack edge, which is a bit unfair on the paying spectator, even if, as in Bangalore ticket prices are reduced by 75 percent.
I thought the inane announcements, the ear-splitting trumpets and desperately unmusical music was a part of the warm-up atmosphere and no more. But an ICC official has confirmed that this was a warm-up for inanities too. The ICC, one of sports more staid bodies, has swung the other extreme now, and see the sport they govern as ‘sportainment.’ The IPLisation of international cricket is one of its more scary developments. Then why ignore the cheer leaders? At least they are a better audio-visual treat than the noise and visuals promised for this World Cup.
The track was criticised by both captains Ricky Ponting and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. So spoilt are the batsmen in this format of the game that they expect featherbeds wherever they play, tracks which make no demands on skill and technique. The best part of the evening was not the bowling of the Indian spinners on a helpful track, but the batting of Ponting on an unhelpful one.
Ponting drove with authority, and with lots of overs and few runs to get (at one stage), decided that big hitting was not the answer. He focussed on singles and twos. His colleagues fell in a heap, stepping out awkwardly to slog or attempting to sweep.
One-day cricket cannot be about entertainment alone (let’s leave that to T20); it is wonderful to see the exhibition of skill and technique too. In fact, one-day cricket cannot afford to immerse its personality in the all-consuming cauldron of the IPL. The two forms of the game need to be kept separate if the older version is to survive. We don’t need a 50-over IPL match.
What were the lessons for India? Nothing emerged that we didn’t know already. That fielding is poor (although one of the best running catches was taken by one of the sloppiest fielders, Munaf Patel), and running between the wickets is a nightmare. Top scorer Virender Sehwag could have been run out half a dozen times himself, and only narrowly missed running out his partners about the same number of times.
If the running was lackadaisical, so too was the outcricket when India were fielding. Too much time was wasted between overs; players were more keen to socialise with colleagues than to get things moving. There are fines for this sort of thing, and if India persist in this attitude during the World Cup, they could earn their captain a match suspension. That would be a holy mess, since there isn’t a second wicket keeper.
Make these games full internationals next time, and see the change in attitude.