Clayton Murzello: The truth about tour games
While it's sad that India went into the Birmingham Test with just one 3-day game, past teams played in fixtures even after the series ended
One can understand why Sunil Gavaskar has slammed India's preparation for the Test series against England. His criticism revolved around the fact that the team got too much of a break after the limited overs series and there was not enough red-ball match practice going into the opening Test of the Pataudi Trophy at Edgbaston, where England triumphed by 31 runs.
Gavaskar was the epitome of good preparation and he played in an era when the Indian cricket team had to play against nearly all the 17 counties on a tour to England.
For the batting giant, thorough preparation extended to all series — home and away. For example, after playing the last day of the 1979 Oval Test (where he nearly guided India to a win with his 221) on September 4, the Indian senior pro landed up for Dadar Union Sporting Club's September 9 Kanga League fixture at the PJ Hindu Gymkhana.
Not only did he boost his beloved club with his presence, he also got a good feel of home conditions two days before the opening Test against the visiting 1979-80 Australians. After all, he was in England for more than two months.
In South Africa last year, Team India decided against playing a tour game at Boland before the opening Test at Cape Town and opted for training sessions instead. However, they ended up on the losing side in the first two Tests. More recently in England, the four-day game against Essex was reduced to three days due to the heat wave.
No one can accuse the current Indian team of not going the extra mile to achieve success, but their methods have come into question. India playing the first Test at Birmingham on the back of only one three-day game is similar to what happened in 2011. MS Dhoni's team played Somerset before the Lord's Test where they lost by 196 runs. England followed that win with three more triumphs at Nottingham, Birmingham and the Oval to earn a 4-0 whitewash.
When it comes to side games in between Tests, the one which springs to mind first is the one India played against Australia 'A' in Hobart on their 2003-04 tour. After the win in Adelaide where India went one-up in a series for the first time on Australian soil, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Ajit Agarkar and Anil Kumble, all heroes at Adelaide, were given a break.
The young Australians bowled out India for 245, earned a 66-run lead and enjoyed a profitable second innings, too, with a certain uncapped batsman Michael Clarke stroking his way to a fine, unbeaten hundred.
We, as touring journalists, wondered if the break in Hobart contributed to the comprehensive loss in the next Test at Melbourne, which propelled Australia back into the series. While maintaining momentum is critical to any winning campaign, there is also a need to look at workload and hence no one made a hue and cry about it.
While tour games can be perfectly rewarding, they can also become very boring. I can hear some members of the 1971 Indian tourists chanting "nonsensical", too. For, after the third and final Test which India famously won at the Oval — their first on English soil since 1932 — they had to play four more games before heading home for a celebratory welcome. In fact, they clashed with Sussex the very next day after the Oval Test concluded in London.
Skipper Ajit Wadekar was keen that his team maintain a clean slate and not lose any of the four games. The boys achieved that with the five-wicket win over TN Pearce XI at Scarborough. The post-Test series games also gave Gavaskar and his skipper the chance to end the tour with 1,000-plus runs. Both achieved that distinction.
India's victorious 1986 team also had to be in England after the Test series ended. The festival India v Pakistan game on July 15, played in aid of UK-based charity Help of the Aged at Harrogate was understandable, but where was the need for a three-day fixture against Yorkshire — even if the match gave India its maiden victory over a county which all touring teams found hard to beat.
Thankfully such meaningless games have stopped, but times have changed to such an extent that touring teams don't get, or demand, enough fixtures when they are genuinely needed and that is, before Test matches.
The second Test that begins at Lord's today provides an opportunity for India to storm back and prove their true worth. Not many teams win an overseas series after losing the first Test. India have done it only once in 82 years of touring — in 2015 against Sri Lanka. However, seven members of that series-winning playing XI are in the current squad so it won't hurt to be hopeful. Match practice won't be a factor for Lord's, but discipline, determination and dedication — the three Ds that defined Gavaskar — will. Over to St John's Wood!
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to email@example.com
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