GAME PLAN: India versus England: Perfect timing and plenty else

Jaideep Ghosh

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If I may be excused a lame joke, but will the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) be paid in smaller denominations, now that big notes have been discontinued?

That actually is not something to be laughed off summarily. Many cash transactions are executed when matches are held at centres around India. So stand by for a little chaos, come the first Test between India and England, beginning in Rajkot on Wednesday.

But let’s leave the economics to the experts and stick to cricket.

Impeccable timing: There is little to like in the BCCI, but their timing is second only to Rahul Dravid.
They went to the Hon. Supreme Court on the absolute last day possible, seeking additional funds for the Rajkot Test.

The media was agog (from a brief period) with the timing of the appeal. Rather naive of my colleagues.

The BCCI is among the most street smart organisations in India (as is evident by the way they are playing I spy with the Lodha Committee).

Initially, they played the national image card, stressing that the series may fall through. That didn’t cut much ice with the Lodha Committee and the Supreme Court. So they sent a letter to the England Cricket Board (ECB) – a letter promptly leaked to the media – that they should foot their own bills. More embarrassment for the country.

When all of that failed, they executed this beautifully timed appeal, leaving no time for any other option than to pay up.

Really awesome timing, this. That’s the BCCI at its champagne best. One can’t but marvel at their tenacity and courage under fire. Even if misplaced courage.

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Team news: Enough of off-field adventures. Now for the match at hand.

We’ll all be naturally looking forward to the new faces in the England squad, including Haseeb Hameed, the opener who will share the initial assault on the Indian bowlers along with skipper Alastair Cook.

Hameed, 19, of Gujarati origin, will be making his debut at home away from home, with the Lancashire youngster being accompanied by his parents for the trip. Apart from that, there are few changes in the England squad, though Gary Ballance has been left out of the probable XI, while Ben Duckett, who was opener during the Bangladesh series, will now go down to No. 4 to accommodate Hameed.

Then there are the spinners. The enigmatic Adil Rashid and the underestimated Moeen Ali.

The pianist, Zafar Ansari, the left-arm spinner, made the grade as off-spinner Gareth Batty was left out. Interesting choices all, since the lack of experience may be a telling difference.
It always was going to be a battle of the spinners, as it is most of the time in India. Ravichandran Ashwin is the lynchpin in the Indian bowling, especially in view of the left-handers holding the important slots in the England line-up.

Ravindra Jadeja has become an integral part of the side, so he was always an automatic choice, while Amit Mishra too made the XI, as Virat Kohli decided to field all his spinners, in view of the pitch.
And as is true with most Test matches anywhere in the world, the mantra is to win toss and bat. Runs on the board are always the biggest ammunition for any team.

So it will be up to the big guns, who are also the captains of their sides, in Kohli and Cook, to bear the brunt. There are others too, like Duckett or Joe Root for England or the reinvigorated Gautam Gambhir or Ajinkya Rahane for India, who will need to play crucial roles.

The technical side aside, this will be a mental battle too.

No one can complain like the English when things don’t go their way. Apart from maybe the Australians. Also, they are quite the lot of in-your-face experts of what are called the ‘dark arts’ of cricket – which the Aussies term as sledging.

But therein lies the fun of it all, since in Kohli, India has founds the ideal replacement for Sourav Ganguly in terms for giving as good as you get on the field.

So it will be a battle where teeth will be bared. There is old history. James Anderson and Jadeja have exchanged pleasantries before, and the English bowlers and Kohli surely go eye-to-eye. Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad are never short of a word. Shami and Umesh Yadav aren’t the most vocal, but they aren’t shrinking violets either. Ashwin doesn’t talk much, but says enough.

So this should be fun. Many days of it. So let the hostilities begin.