THE Indian Test cricket team flew into the West Indies earlier this month and the Pakistan team travelled to England last month, both obviously to play cricket, but the noise we hear suggests that the business on hand for Virat Kohli and the boys under his command is a far, feeble cry from what the Pakistanis are engaged in at the moment.
One has been in the cricket mode from day one, while the other was in the mood to picnic for the better part of the pre-series build-up, and there’s no question about what the cricket world is hooked on. It’s cricket, not drum rolls or beach frolics, so we hear Sachin Tendulkar speak about Mohammed Amir and how the new swing of things he could bring in could make life difficult for Alastair Cook and his boys for now and for many others for quite some time to come, and not about how and if Kohli’s shirtless turn on the Saint Nevis beach could send shivers down the spines of guys like Carlos Brathwaite whose vital statistics — height 193cm, weight 120kg, chest 46 inches and biceps 18 inches — is perhaps three or more Indian players’ put together.
Apart from the fact that the Indian team has a brand new coach, and it is Anil Kumble’s first assignment in the new role, the Indian tour of the West Indies fails to generate interest in global cricket watchers. That is one reason that the noise we hear about the Indian team is more about how they beat the drums for 45 minutes before boarding the flight to the West Indies or how MS Dhoni’s pep talk at the end of the pre-departure training camp is inspiring the boys “to do what in Indian cricket they don’t do often”. Discovering fun has never been so pleasant or such an inspiring priority for Indian cricketers.
The pre-series talk about the Pakistan tour centred on threats and counter-threats, beginning with captain Cook’s warning to Amir as soon as the flight from Lahore carrying the Pakistanis landed in England that rude “consequences” were waiting for him at Lord’s for his 2010 misdeeds, and ending with Mohammed Riaz’s angry retort a couple days before the first Test got off at Lord’s that when it came to rudeness no one could beat the Pakistanis to it.
As Joe Root conceded at the end of a round of trash talk, it’s getting, with such pre-match hype and hysteria, a bit like boxing, but a complete absence of rhetoric makes any contest, boxing or cricket, boring. The real challenge unfolds in the 22 yards, but the events happening by design or by default before the first ball is delivered spice up the proceedings. For that to happen, there need to be personalities on both sides of the line who could get quite a few tongues lashing, and it’s the absence of such intriguing substance that is taking the focus away from the India-West Indies series.
In the past, spotlight was on fast bowlers when a team toured the West Indies. Right up to the early 90s touring batsmen were trying to perfect their technique so they could get back home with their rib bones intact. Former great Courtney Walsh says the last explosive fast bowler his country produced was Patrick Patterson, which was in the 90s. The flat, lifeless wickets on offer now seem to sap life out of the tall, young guys. The result is a new crop of fast-medium bowlers who actually bring a smile, not fear, on the rival’s face. Under the circumstances, the focus shifts to slow guys like R. Ashwin and Amit Mishra who promise to be more boring with their line and length than ever.
A mediocre West Indies fast bowling line-up consisting of Shanon Gabriel, Jason Holder, Carlos Brathwaite and Miguel Cummins might still get Rohit Sharma and Co. confused about their off stump often enough to force them into playing and missing and eventually edging the ball to slips. India might find the going tough, lose a Test or two or the entire series. But, at the moment, there is a colossal lack of interest in the action set to take place in the West Indies. It will require superman shows, one after another and all happening at an incredible pace and with unbelievable regularity, from captain Kohli to shift the focus from Pakistan to India.
The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman