India have big questions to answer in the aftermath of the Kolkata Test and the biggest surrounds the attitude of their near god- like top names.
When the likes of MS Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir and the rest went back to their hotel rooms after that defeat, how much were they hurting? How much hunger for the long- haul form of the game — with its mental and physical demands — have these multi- millionaire players still got? Are they thinking, deep down, “ Never mind”, and prioritising instead the fun, glamour and huge financial rewards that come from the Indian Premier League? That is the crux of the issue now for India. The last thing their cricket needs, really, is a win in Nagpur and a share of this series because all that would do is paper over the cracks.
They would believe everything is OK. India left Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh out of their squad for the final Test but it is attitudes as much as personnel that need to change. India will always have some good young players but what kind of cricket will they want to play? Will they still dedicate themselves to Test cricket or will they look to that lucrative six- week world of IPL Twenty20 instead? We had the sight of India’s chief selector, Sandeep Patil, having what looked like an animated conversation with their coach Duncan Fletcher.
They could have been talking about what they were going to have for lunch for all we know, but it didn’t look like that. It looked like serious stuff, with some fingerjabbing going on from Patil. And Fletcher would have hated that.
When I worked with Duncan for England, he hated anything like that being done in public. He even hated us talking team business in the dressing room because he felt any player watching us might think we were talking about them. He liked to conduct his business in private.
Fletcher has a very different job now.
When he was England coach, he could take people on for the good of the team.
He would incur the wrath of many a county chairman because he knew what was best for England and he wasn’t afraid to upset people along the way. And he turned English cricket around with the help of central contracts and the sort of support for the England team that poor David Lloyd could only dream about when he was coach.
Can Fletcher do that now? Perhaps if India lose this series 3- 1, the public will realise that there needs to be a shake- up and support Duncan’s attempts to do that, for what is happening in Indian cricket is not Fletcher’s fault. Remember, they have lost Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, while Sachin Tendulkar is not what he was. Fletcher will want to look into the eyes of Dhoni, Gambhir, Virender Sehwag and even Tendulkar to see how much hunger they have. The day that hunger goes is the day they will have to step down and Fletcher will know what needs to be done.
It is whether he will be allowed to do it and whether the players take responsibility for what has happened that will be key.
The turnaround in this series has been incredible. For England to have lost three tosses and to have been defeated in the first Test so heavily but to be 2- 1 up with one to play is little short of phenomenal.
When they were 2- 1 up in the last Ashes series, they went to Sydney and produced their best performance and that is what they want to do now.
There have been echoes in this series of how they came back in Australia after a slightly shaky start in Brisbane and England will not want to share the series.
If they complete the job in Nagpur, it will be right up there with the Ashes.