THE BIG question at Trent Bridge has nothing to do with the tight hamstring of big Chris Tremlett or the old, periodically fatal virus called hubris that used to assail the English cricket psyche.
Tremlett, brilliantly though he has emerged in the last year, is certainly not irreplaceable and where England once had a serious swaggering tendency after even minor triumphs, they now look like a team with both enough leadership and intrinsic character to handle quite evenly the possibility that very soon they may well be the world’s No 1-ranked team.
No, most fascinating beside the Trent today are the mystic imponderables of India.
Can they show that along with some of the still most enviable skills in world cricket, they have the appetite to fight, to show they have sufficient residual pride to prevent some awful repeat of the surrender on People’s Monday?
The alternative, let’s be honest, is a terrible prospect. It is an abandonment of years of superb achievement, a betrayal of all that came to be represented by the old guard of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.
At Lord’s only Dravid, on the third day, reminded us of the quality that made India’s surpassing of the great Australian empire so inevitable. Only he looked comfortable in the skin of a leader of the world game. Over the next few days he has to revisit such high ground in the company of Tendulkar, hopefully recovered from his virus, and Laxman. Most vitally, the entire Indian team have to look much less of a parody of the best Test force in the world. Can they do it? Cricket will be much poorer for their failure.
On the top of the natural sadness that accompanies the decline of any great team, there will be the suspicion that unlike the Aussies, who simply ran out of great players in a debilitating rush, India have not so much eroded as abdicated.
Abdicated, that is, their role as the cricket nation of the richest talent best equipped to play all forms of the game.
And why? Maybe because they got too rich, too arrogant too sure about their ability to cherry-pick the profits that came with the explosion of popularity, however fleeting, of Twenty20, and their eventually nerveless triumph in the recent World Cup. The Indian conclusion, all the evidence suggests, is that they were simply good enough to skim along, riding their natural gifts and luxuriating in their newly achieved, money-based power.
They could jam up the schedules with the one-day cash jamboree and they could come to Lord’s, which used to be the home of cricket, with a frankly insulting level of preparation in local conditions for a Test series which had the now proven potential to determine that No 1 ranking. Three days down in Somerset was sufficient, they reckoned.
It was a calculation of the schedulers that must have brought dismay to the old but still zealously pro Duncan Fletcher.
Zaheer Khan, their best strike bowler, came to Lord’s in no shape for a world heavyweight title contest. The moment he was submitted to the stresses and strains of Test combat, as opposed to the pyrotechnic flurries of the Indian Premier League, he quite literally groaned to a halt before the end of the first day. Praveen Kumar bowled with sustained intelligence and Ishant Sharma briefly lifted Indian hearts with work of brilliant bite - but it was too little and, in the end, it seemed only to underline the degree of Indian neglect.
You do not send in champions, no more than a leg of mutton, so shamefully undercooked.
But the Indians did it, presumably because they thought they could get away with it - as they did with their outrageous sabotage of the DRS system which had proved such a force of enlightenment and natural justice in recent major series.
It means that what is expected by those of us romantic enough to back the class of India in this hugely important series is more than some encouraging evidence that they have found the appetite to fight. What is looked for is something like full-scale redemption. But then how would we define such a thing?
Importantly, there would be some manifestation in the field. A degree of urgency, a hint that what was happening was about more than another routine shift of instant gratification cricket when you hit or you miss but tomorrow you will have another go. There would be the demeanour of champions, conscious that they were fighting for something hard won that should not be so easily abandoned.
Dravid showed so much of it on that third day and in the late sunshine of Sunday night, when he and Laxman batted with patience that at times was nothing less than imperious. James Anderson, Tremlett and Stuart Broad were a formidable crew, no doubt, but Dravid and Laxman were suddenly inviting them to do their best with no certainty of success.
Their wickets were, however, thrown away quickly enough on the following morning and what followed lacked only the defeatist adornment of a white flag. A repeat of such irresolution in Nottingham will just not do, certainly, if the meaning of a great team is to at least be preserved before it finally gallops off into history.
Such teams come and go like the seasons, of course, but with the success there is a certain responsibility. It is to go out as you came in, filled with pride and competitive intensity.
India has three Test matches in which to revive such a way of playing and thinking. That they do so is important not just for them but all of Test cricket, that superior form of the game for which they have been so long so outstandingly suited. They also owe it to the dreams they once so beautifully excited wherever cricket is cherished.
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