Is it just me or is the current mega-series between the two greatest sides ever to have walked the earth in 2011 the most under-hyped contest of all time? Listening to my radio of a morning I hear hours of tedious triumphalism over the success of a British man in the 2 mile open course swimming championships, am assailed by the minutiae of Tour de France point scoring systems, and know far more than I ever wanted to about Northern Irish golfers and their cigar preferences.
Yet we stand on the brink of a moment that could determine not just the number one side in test cricket, but the entire socio-economic future of the planet. I would go further but I’m not sure there is further to go.
For at Trent Bridge tomorrow, India, with its billions of pounds and 21st century stellar stars that put the likes of Beckham and Rooney in the shade (to say nothing of Rebecca Adlington, Rory McThingy, and that quirky boy on the bike), face an England team of all the talents but lacking a single individual genius (unless we count KP, which we might but for the sake of this argument let’s not).
It is a clash of cultures; the austere and recently impoverished English nation against the up and coming brashness of 21st century globalism. And England have adopted an almost post war East European approach to their game. Gone are the flamboyant mavericks, such as Botham, Gower and Flintoff. In their stead come uniquely fit and well prepared identikit athletes. Bowlers share their wickets around. Different batsmen excel as the need arises (excepting Eoin Morgan of course), and no one gives so much as a sideways glance at a flaming sambucca or coquettish barmaid. Attention to detail and remorseless professionalism are the watchwords of this England outfit.
Railed against them are a team of all the talents (apart from leg spin bowling but if Harbhajan gets dropped even that may change); individuals whose deeds resound across the cricketing firmament. With their enormous wealth and massive fanbase, the Indian team bestrides the world more dominantly than Real Madrid, Manchester United or Barcelona. And the fanaticism of their followers eclipses anything the former champion sides, West Indies or Australia could bring to the party.
India’s dominance has been a recent phenomenon. The rapid decline of Australia left a vacuum at the top of world cricket which India almost inhabited by default. Barely have they played outside the subcontinent in the last 4 years, and when they did visit South Africa they left with a creditable but hardly history determining 1-1 draw. For India truly to supplant those two great sides of the last 30 years, they must surely win this series against England.
But after losing so horrendously at Lord’s, there is the very real danger that this team will never bear comparison with the greats. A loss at Trent Bridge and it could be time to usher in a whole new era with England, bizarre as it may seem, peering down from the summit. Indeed, not only could it statistically send England to the number one spot, it could result in the break up of one of the truly great batting line ups and herald a period of rebuilding for the current champions.
The Indians have a good record at Trent Bridge. Tendulkar and Dravid prosper there, and with scores generally tending to be lower than at any other English ground, you may suppose the side with the stronger batting would come out on top. But England will have a rejuvenated Broad in their ranks to support Anderson who averages a measly 15 at TB. In addition, Tremlett looks a doubt which may force the England management to call up Bresnan, a bowler for whom Trent Bridge was tailor made.
India are likely to be without the matchless Zaheer Khan and so could well call up Sreesanth, a bowler of endless eccentricity and capriciousness but entirely devoid of reliability. Coupled with his tessellating be-bangledment and random locks, he resembles a latter day Boy George. And say what you like about Boy George but no one was going to pick him for a must win test match.
But it is still only a test series, is it not? Well, not. If England win, it could just herald an era of self-perpetuating success based on the age old, but always ignored in England, principles of team work. We may at last become less fixated with individuals and begin to appreciate the power of the collective. We may loose our chains and finally unite in a post-capitalist doctrine of strength through unity.
Meanwhile India will experience for the first time what it is to lose the glory they have spent so long working towards. The BCCI will come under the spotlight. There will be demands to find talent across the country and not just among the relatively well to do. A revolution could spring up that will cleanse Indian cricket and send them, in four years or so, hurtling back to the summit of the world game from where they could remain dominant for years to come.
Or it could be a draw and I’ll have to re-write all this on the eve of the 3rd test. Either way, be assured that what will take place at Trent Bridge over the next five days is more than just a cricket match. It’s akin to that moment in Terminator 2 when Arnie is sent back in time to destroy the chip which launched the robot revolution. It will decide the future of the cricket world; the only world I, and any right minded people inhabit. It is destiny.