Four Test Matches and the visitors are beaming all the way back to England. Deservedly so, only because, you would have to admit that they were the 'better prepared', the 'more sorted' in the head and much more in tune with the longest format of the game.
Over a month ago, Team England arrived in India well in advance to acclimatize to the conditions on hand. They did their research; they chalked out 'realistic' plans and went about their work with precision and perseverance that is not alien to the region they come from. Prior to their visit to India, Team England spent time in Dubai, where they practised with crowd noise and virtual ambience on the stadium PA system ( public address). Some would say they were being over keen in their preparation for the upcoming series in India. Now, perhaps the same people would think not.
After a disastrous tour to England where India lost 4-0, this four match series was a chance for them to prove a point that at home, the Indians are invincible. The campaign began with the first Test at Ahmedabad where the foundation for that situation to happen was laid. With a convincing nine wicket win, the hosts were off to a positive start. With three Tests to go, the glass had to look more than half full.
The second Test at Mumbai had all the ‘ingredients' of another India win, what with the captain 'ordering' turning wickets from day one. The Wankdhede curators obliged India's captain cool with a turning tornado of a track. But sadly it all 'turned' wrong for Team India, as the English spinners made merry and with some sensible batting to couple the skillful bowling. Soon England conquered Mumbai winning by a whopping ten wickets putting the series at an interesting 1-1 position.
What better place than the Eden Gardens to see which of the teams would surge ahead. The quintessential 'mecca' of cricket this side of the globe, Eden Gardens was given the same orders with respect to the 'pitch'. But the octogenarian curator of the Eden Gardens would have none of it and refused to comply and threatened to quit his job on any further insistence. After much 'talk' the curator was allowed to let the Eden 'pitch' be as it is. The result a few days later was there staring the cricket lover in the face. England won the match by seven wickets and more importantly took the lead 2-1.
Not a pretty picture for Team India nor it's millions of fans. The media went ballistic about the team and nothing the team did was even close to right. People called for captain cool's head and suddenly all that Mahendra Singh Dhoni did was terribly wrong.
Emotions run high and no one thinks straight. And in India everyone has an opinion about cricket and those who play the game. There are theories about what is wrong with the team and what needs to be done to sort the situation. But if one were to keep it at its simplest, the thing that separated the two teams in the Test series was 'preparation'. With the conclusion of the fourth and final Test at Nagpur, the visitors could proudly claim total dominance over the hosts in all departments of the game and purely due to application and immaculate preparation.
Alastair Cook was the epitome of everything that was right with Team England. He led by example and his eventual prize, that of 'man of the series' was most justifiable. His demeanour right through the series was one that was laudable. At 6feet 2 inches he literally stood tall and took his team to a series win on Indian soil, after a gap of 28 long years. With a personal contribution of 562 runs and a high score of 190, Captain Cook had every reason to be ecstatic. This was a ‘special' tour alright for him and his team. It was by no means meant to be an easy tour and Captain Cook summed it up well when he said:
"We have played on four very different wickets. We didn't handle the Ahmedabad wicket so well, but the other three wickets were all very different in sub-continent style. Everyone in this squad can be proud of what they achieved, especially the way we bounced back after the heavy defeat in Ahmedabad. I was surprised at the level we managed to achieve so soon after Ahmedabad to be honest with you. I was talking about playing to our potential but I was surprised we managed to do it straightaway and put all those doubts to bed and prove to ourselves that we could bat in these conditions."
Team India would have to eat humble pie as they gifted Team England the ‘bragging rights' for the Test series. Many questions would be asked and are being asked, but the players need to ask only themselves for the answers. At the end of the day it was all a question of preparation, and the team that was better prepared, took the honours. Simple, really it is that elementary.
There is no doubt that the game in India has epic proportions. Yes, it is much more than just a game. For the ardent cricket lover, the game of cricket is life. There is disappointment and as one of the the famous songs of the ‘pop' group of the 1970s ABBA said:
"The Winner takes it all ... The Loser standing small!"
Team India must introspect and gather all their resources so that they maximize performance in the game, especially in the most crucial format. This time around they were clearly under cooked (pun intended). There are no excuses, just a change in mind set and a re-tuning of all the basic reasons why cricket is played in the country.
As for Alastair Cook and his happy band of men, they can shout from the rooftops that preparation is key to any fulfilling victory. And the 2-1 Test series win, was surely 'one achievement' that will be etched in gold on the Cook Cricket Canvas.