The day we lost the first Test at Lord's, the knives had come out. Experts blamed the lack of preparation for India's poor start - we should have played at least a couple of warm-up games to get used to English conditions, they'd opined. Even as I echo their sentiments with regards to the benefits of playing more first-class matches prior to a tough tour in alien conditions, I'm wary of confusing acclimatization with preparation, for it can only be a part of the entire process. Or else, how would one explain India's poor show even in the following two Test matches? After all Team India, by now, has spent nearly a month in England and hence acclimatization can no longer be an issue.
Preparation is a process that requires foresight and a definite roadmap to achieve the desirable. Earlier this year, when England won the Ashes in Australia, it wasn't just because they were a better side during those 5 Test matches but because they were better prepared. Their preparation started even before they'd set foot on Australian soil. It started with identifying the right personnel to do the job in Australian conditions. They needed hit-the-deck-hard bowlers to succeed on hard Aussie tracks and hence Bresnan and Finn were picked. Did we do anything along those lines? The answer is a resounding 'No'. Even after knowing well which Indian batsmen struggle against the moving ball or against short-pitched deliveries we didn't do anything about it. Some of our batsmen are found wanting not because they suddenly developed certain technical deficiencies, for you don't become a poor batsman overnight. Culprits are the ones who buried their heads in sand and believed that the ball won't swing much or English bowlers will play good hosts and won't bowl bouncers.
It's common knowledge that openers play a crucial role in England, for the new ball inflicts maximum damage. Still we chose to pick only two openers for the first two Test
matches and so the moment Gautam went down at Lord's, the entire batting order got disrupted. Since there wasn't another regular opener in the squad, Dravid had to open at Trent Bridge, which meant the two in-form players, Laxman and Dravid batting out of their favored position. One may call it unfortunate, but I'd give England's example once again.
When the senior team was engaged against Australia in the Ashes, England's development squad was also touring Australia simultaneously. If there was ever an injury scare, the replacement was not only there in Australia but also match-ready. Even though we haven't been as meticulous as England, we've been fortunate enough to have our India-A squad playing competitive cricket in Emerging Players' tournament in Australia. But once again, the likely replacements for Team India in England aren't picked for that tour either. Here I must mention that there's still only one opener in the Emerging Players' squad. Not an ideal scenario!
Wouldn't it have been ideal to have Ashwin, Ojha and RP Singh play competitive cricket in Australia when the call came instead of cooling their heels in India? We must be honest in addressing these issues if we wish to dominate world cricket post the World Cup triumph.