Ahmedabad: Cricket once used to be a glorious pastime, with the Arthur Conan Doyles and the PG Wodehouses (yes, both played at Lord’s!) picking up a wicket or two in between their literary innings.
It became a serious sport only when the likes of Don Bradman took a stance, highlighting the filigree work of skills that are needed to play the ‘gentleman’s game.’ It ceased to be gentle when fierce rivalries were pitted against each other.
The rivalry bit has survived the test of many Tests and it will surely be the cornerstone when hosts India take on England, in the first of the four-match Test series, beginning at the Motera, from Thursday. But somewhere down the line, unfortunately, the game in this part of the world has been reduced to a pastime — often measured by its entertainment quotient, neglecting the ecstasy of a glorious straight drive past the bowler on a sun-bathed winter afternoon.
Pundits, and the inferior lot as well, are marketing the series as one of revenge — with the Mahendra Singh Dhonis supposedly eager to inflict the same pain on the Englishmen that they suffered about a year back in the Queen’s country. But isn’t that too pedestrian an assumption about a series that involves some of the best talents in the game? Isn’t that too common a tag, used almost for every return series?
If a 39-year-old Sachin Tendulkar is still padding up to face a 23-year-old Stuart Meaker, it is certainly much more than revenge… It’s more about the passion to outthink, outclass the opposition, clearing the barriers that experience or inexperience puts up. So, there are quite a few other interesting facets that, in the long run, will help the enthusiast sustain his love for the game.
The Indians first: Dhoni, a small-town dreamer-turned-the country’s hero, has the most difficult job in contemporary cricket — he has to prove, much like Barack Obama, that he is still the right leader, that too in a country where ad jingles remind you that we ‘eat, sleep and drink cricket’.
It would be unfair to question Dhoni’s leadership skills, not after he has won two World Cups, a feat that many of his celebrated predecessors couldn’t even think of. But is he still the right man? Rahul Dravid thinks it’s too much of a burden on Dhoni, the player. The outcome of the series will go a long way in saying what Dhoni himself thinks.
Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, of late, have been like a book with just the contents list and nothing to follow up. They would like to fill up the pages, individually and together, with runs. Then, there’s Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli, working tirelessly to step out of the shadows of Dravid and VVS Laxman. Can they sweep away the doubters and drive home the point that the next generation is not all about the razzmatazz of Twenty20 cricket?
Move on to Sachin and you will see a Master, who has already crafted his masterpiece, working double hard, almost like a trainee, to plug the gap between his bat and pad. For Yuvraj Singh, cricket and life have interchanged places, weaving a complex veil of desire.
Now, every time the champion takes the field, it’s like the game of his life. As far as the bowlers are concerned, the situation is complicated. We are not sure what they can do. And recent performances say that they too are in search of answers!
Now, something about the likely playing XIs. While Ishant Sharma has almost been ruled out with a viral on the Indian front, England’s Steven Finn is definitely sitting out with an injury. No one’s sure how the pitch will behave and India are likely to play two spinners in Ashwin and Ojha. That means, Harbhajan Singh will have to sit out. For England, one will have to wait and see if Finn’s place goes to Tim Bresnan or they play the second spinner in Monty Panesar.
So, if you still feel that revenge and vengeance is what this series is being played for, congrats, you just found yourself a pastime… As Wodehouse would say, ‘Right Ho, Jeeves!’
India (likely): Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ravichandran Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav, Pragyan Ojha.
England (likely): Alastair Cook, Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Samit Patel, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan/Monty Panesar, Graeme Swann, James Anderson.
Umpires: Aleem Dar and Tony Hill.
TV: Sudhir Asnani.
Match starts: 9.30am.