It has been quite illuminating watching the England and Indian teams warm up this summer. England have a strict routine. After doing their own batting practice beforehand they all assemble at 10.15 for a briefing. Five minutes later a sequence of drills are underway, starting with some catches bounced off the little orange ramps that look giant slices of Red Leicester.
Then it’s on to more specific catching drills, slip catching practice for those in the cordon, both for right and left handed batsmen (Andy Flower and Phil Neale dovetail well in this regard). Ian Bell and Alastair Cook work on their short-leg/silly point technique with the help of balls fired out of a cut down bowling machine onto one of those springy catching nets as a ‘batsman’ (usually the fitness coach Huw Bevan) deliberately misses them. Meanwhile Jimmy Anderson does extended extra practice at fielding slip to Graeme Swann and David Saker slices catches to the men who are likely to field at gully or cover. The fielding coach hits skyers to the outfielders with a rubber bat. Every base is covered. Everything is done for the team’s benefit.
Indian players, on the other hand, seem to focus mainly on themselves. There is a growing realisation that the Indian team is made up primarily of a number of individual PLCs (the players) looking after their ‘share price’. In other words, these are players who have reached the pinnacle of their careers from an Indian perspective (winning the World Cup and buying your mum and dad a new home/tarmacing their village high street). To them this Test series is all a bit of an anti-climax. As long as they can retain their place in the team, they don’t seem to be that bothered.
So, after some fairly basic fielding drills – supervised by Trevor Penney, another Zimbabwean under Duncan Fletcher’s umbrella – they are in the nets having throw downs, or specially focussed sessions to restore their individual confidence and thereby their value. The IPL has made millionaires out of all of them and they want to maintain that status at all costs. That isn’t going to come from India winning Test matches but by the players themselves making big scores. Ironically, the man who has thought least about his image and a potentially lucrative future – Rahul Dravid – is the man who has made comfortably the most runs.
The intrinsic problem is that Indians, with one or two exceptions, don’t really like fielding. It’s an occupational hazard rather than a vital and influential part of the game. And nowhere is the current difference between the teams starker. Through great agility and commitment, England have made India pay for their mistakes. India have generally let England off theirs. They are not sharp enough or fit enough. They can blame their system, but true discipline comes from within. There is an excuse for lack of talent. There is no excuse for lack of effort.