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Indian thoughts return to cricket

Oliver Brett | 08:18 UK time, Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Cricket has essentially been in limbo since the horrific attacks by gunmen on Mumbai.

But for fans of England and India, thoughts will finally return to matters on the field on Thursday when captains Kevin Pietersen and Mahendra Dhoni walk out for the toss at Chennai.

While England's cricketers left India to return to their families - before eventually flying most of the way back for a brief training camp in Abu Dhabi - India's players have also been looking at ways to fill up the time.

Sachin Tendulkar, the most famous sportsman Mumbai will probably ever produce, gave one moving interview describing his reaction to the tragedy in his hometown.

A man who does not often betray his emotions, he revealed: "I have been disturbed... tracking the horrific images of mayhem on television. I couldn't sleep all this time. I am numb. The images keep playing in my head."

Deprived of sleep or otherwise, he found time to show his magnanimous side, taking time out from a net session to give some tips to Mumbai's women players.

There are few records left for him to break but if anyone can shake off the emotional side of things swiftly, and focus his entire energies on tuning back into the demands of Test cricket, then he can. Don't be surprised to see the Little Master taking another century off England.

Yuvraj Singh once again gets a chance to see whether he can translate prolific one-day success to the Test arena. This time he replaces the retired Sourav Ganguly, and he was awesome with bat and ball against England in the prematurely-concluded one-day series.

A natural entertainer, Yuvraj too gave a thoughtful interview a few days after the Mumbai atrocities, which began not long after India had beaten England in the fifth one-day international.

"I was in the team bus on my way to the hotel when my mother called and told me about the attacks," he said.

"Everyone in the team was shaken. Till five in the morning, we were glued to the television set in Harbhajan Singh's room and kept calling our friends and family members.

"It was an unforgettable night, a tragic event. People's lives are more important than cricket. India will not forget this event easily."

The effervescent skipper Dhoni, meanwhile, is donating his match fees for the Test series of £8,000 to the victims of the attacks. He has also asked his team-mates not to indulge in excessive celebrations and to show some restraint on the field.

Having spent most of the intervening period with his family in Jharkand - India's players have been given some time off - Dhoni arrived in Chennai a day earlier than his team-mates, apparently to film a commercial.

He was accompanied through the airport on Sunday by the Black Cat commandos fans will see rather a lot of during this series.


The off-the-field security situation regarding the series will dominate the headlines and the players' thoughts but once they cross the rope on Thursday morning, they will have to focus on the cricket.

Virender Sehwag, whose recent engagements have included handing out prizes to the top chess and kho-kho players at a school in Chennai, was in wonderful form in the one-dayers and could quite easily take his form onto the Tests, where he and Gautam Gambhir are proving to be an entertaining double act.

VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid make up the formidable batting line-up, though the former has never hit a century against England and the latter has been in poor form. A brilliant batsman at his peak, Dravid may choose to retire when the series finishes, regardless of his performances.

For once, India also pose a major threat with their fast bowlers, not historically an area of strength for them.

Even if the wickets are pretty lifeless, the seam, swing and pace offered by Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma with the red ball could prove a searching examination of a potentially brittle England top order.

Not that long ago Zaheer was slithering down the greasy ladder from high achievement towards obscurity, a journey frequented by many an Indian seam bowler in past times.

But in 2006, he gave his game that extra edge from which Australians have so often profited - a summer in county cricket.

The results were outstanding - 78 wickets for Worcestershire at an average of 29.07 in England's County Championship was a wonderful return, but equally importantly he got through a huge workload of 600 overs.

Ever since then his action has been solidly grooved and reliable, he looks as strong as an ox, at 30 his pace is back to where it was as a young man - and he can still move the ball both ways at will.

He was man of the series when India won the Tests in England the following year, and turned Matthew Hayden into a nervous wreck in the 2-0 Test series success at home to Australia this autumn.

But he was nevertheless eclipsed in that rubber by Sharma.

Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma are a formidable double act

He is only 20, and has just 13 Tests to his name, and yet Sharma has already won high praise from some of the harshest critics, including Steve Waugh.

In that same series against Australia a few weeks back, he collected man of the series for his 17 wickets, bowling long spells in harsh conditions with remarkable accuracy and confidence - though not of the arrogant kind.

Like Zaheer, he moves the ball both ways - clearly a requirement of the Test pacemen employed by India coach Gary Kirsten and his skilful bowling sidekick Venkatesh Prasad.

But with more height and a dash more pace than the older man, Sharma is potentially an even more awkward customer for England to deal with. And Pietersen's men would do well to ignore his waywardness in the aborted one-day series. (He had, in any case, only just returned to fitness).

Completing the four-man bowling line-up are spinners Amit Mishra and Harbhajan Singh.

Mishra, the leg-break bowler who did so well on debut against Australia, will be bowling against a side noted for their fragile record against wrist-spinners.

England are taking young Yorkshire leggie Adil Rashid with them, presumably so he can give the tourists some preparation for dealing with Mishra. But I strongly suspect Rashid does not have a googly to match the one that Mishra memorably pinned Michael Clarke lbw with in Mohali.

Harbhajan, meanwhile, has 33 wickets in nine matches against England. Expect some interesting tactical exchanges between him and Pietersen.

Now that England have gone back to India, fans of the game will hope to see some competitive cricket over the two Test matches.

However whichever side comes out on top, the real winner will be the game of cricket.


  • Comment number 1.

    I wish both England and India well and hope the 2 tests played are entertaining and closely fought out.

  • Comment number 2.

    Crickey, that picture doesn't make Sharma look too pretty does it! Hideous.

    "He has also asked his team-mates not to indulge in excessive celebrations and to show some restraint on the field."

    They won't have anything to celebrate... but good luck reigning in Harbi, he'll probably slap a few fans this time round.

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi Oliver, good blag, England will struggle I feel.

    The text has disappeared underneath the 1st pic in the blog, of the guy practising bowling.

  • Comment number 4.

    The guy practising his bowling is none other than MS Dhoni

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    India look a class act and I think England may struggle, the top order will probably get themselves out no matter how the indian attack plays.
    Fingers crossed though as always, we live in hope.

    I just hope after every thing that has gone on - the Indian public turn out and fill the grounds cos the Aussie tests looked a bit sad with no one to recognise the great acheivment by India.

  • Comment number 7.

    Win, lose or draw, England have already done Indian cricket - and India in general - a tremendous service by continuing with the tour.

    After the greedy debacle of the Stanford series, this has shown English cricket at its best.

    I am hoping for two closely contested games that shift the emphasis back to cricket. However India at home is never anything but challenging and the current India side is bristling with talent.

    As to empty stadia, last I heard there were going to be five thousand police and commandos......

  • Comment number 8.

    Its a landmark series and will be remembered for reasons that go beyond cricket. It definitely brings England and India closer to each other on more fronts than the mere economics of cricket. Apart from playing the game competitively let it be the friendliest series in a tribute to the memory of those slain in the Mumbai mayhem.

  • Comment number 9.

    I hope this series will remove the horrors of the Bombay blast. I sincerly hope that cricket would be the winner and I wish both the teams well.

  • Comment number 10.

    Good on England. Gonna help India start to overcome this tragedy by sending a load of second rate batsman and bowlers for a whipping. ironically if most of the players had pulled out and we'd sent replacements i could have said the same thing.

  • Comment number 11.

    Good article......throughout history, any form of sport has tended to heal wounds created from horrible incidents. It is the same here and I commend the England cricket team for coming back to play and proving to everyone that there is always hope and there is still good in thi world. looking forward to 2 great test matches:)

  • Comment number 12.

    I am an Indian supporter. But this might be the first time ever I don't care much about who actually wins, as long as it is a good contest.

    I have a lot of respect for England. The recent atrocities have put sport (more specifically cricket for India) into perspective. I will not begrudge England for winning at all. In fact I am secretly hoping they put on a good account of themselves.

    Best would be a couple of close matches, maybe India winning both though :)

  • Comment number 13.

    As an Indian supporter, all I have for England is respect.I don't understand the politics of cricket or arm-twisting of BCCI.All I see is full strength England squad playing cricket in Chennai which in these difficult times is incredible.Hats off to you.

  • Comment number 14.

    Congratulations to Pietersen & co. for making the trip to India. My respect and regard for KP has gone up several notches... he is a true leader of men.... completely different to the negative, defeatisit moaning Vaughan.

    As far as the cricket goes, it is a tall order for the Englishmen... unless the batting can improve overnight. The weather in Chennai might mean this is a one-match series at Mohali though.

  • Comment number 15.

    "completely different to the negative, defeatisit moaning Vaughan"

    I find that comment surprising. I dont recall Michael Vaughan being any of those things. Quite the contrary to be honest.

  • Comment number 16.

    "I find that comment surprising. I dont recall Michael Vaughan being any of those things. Quite the contrary to be honest."

    I don't either.

    But maybe it is an impression people get at the end of long captaincies, I seem to remember Vaughan being considered a breath of fresh air after the 'negative, defeatist' Nasser Hussein. And the same was probably said when he took over from Atherton.

  • Comment number 17.

    Just recently, Vaughan reckoned that England should not return, and that 2 weeks of compulsory, proper mourning was required over the Mumbai blasts. Maybe he's forgotten he's the skipper.

  • Comment number 18.

    Comment 2, by womble re. india's prospects-

    "They won't have anything to celebrate".

    Are you serious? They beat England in the last test series IN ENGLAND, just beat Australia at home, were prevented from thrashing England 7- 0 in the one day series by 10 terrorists, rather than 11 Englishmen. Confidence in your team is one thing, but India winning is a mere formality.

  • Comment number 19.

    These test matches will be all about Englands batting. I hope that if we get the opportunity to bat first Cook and Colly can get some runs as they need desperately need them. Apparently the news in India was shown uncensored of the shootings.....I really do hope the test matches go ahead without any problems and Cricket can reclaim its place as the sport that tries not to be a political football.

    kamalarsenal: ODIs have no bearing on our test team. You may regret thinking that India winning is a formality. Think you will find the Barmy Army will never predict the actual results until the match is under way. Let the games begin.:)

  • Comment number 20.

    How is Collingwood still in the team?? What do Shah and Bopara have to do to get given a chance....??

    Other than that though, looks like a nice balanced side and with Broad to come back for the second test there's plenty of competition for places. Now we just need a solid batting performance.......

  • Comment number 21.

    Excellent blog... great to look forward to some cricket, but I do fear for England. When you go down the India side it is laced with experience and potential - a lethal combination.

    Whilst the ODIs aren't a great inidcator, how can Collingwood be playing still??! Shah deserves a chance and must wonder what he has to do. Our best player of spin, a real fighter and the best ODI batsmen of the last couple of series. When Collingwood is out of form he looks like Devon Malcolm playing left handed with a toothpick! Drop him, play Shah and at least give Owais a chance to forge an international career.

  • Comment number 22.

    Virender Sehwag
    Gautam Gambhir
    Rahul Dravid
    Sachin Tendulkar
    V.V.S. Laxman
    Yuvraj Singh

    Six batsman better than anyone we have but Pietersen. That is a mouthwatering line up.

    They'll win twice in three days.

  • Comment number 23.

    Whilst it is correct to play cricket once more, can't help feeling the decision is way too hasty, maybe conflict should resume after Christmas as England don't go to the West Indies until February, and India's tour of Pakistan looks in doubt.
    Once again the ICC just stand by and do nothing, it is the greed of the BCCI that is oiling the whole show, if India was to become a no go zone like Pakistan, where would the IPL be in future, already the T20 Champions League is in limbo.
    The matches are going ahead for the wrong reasons, England have been hoodwinked into going only so the likes of Flintoff and Pietersen can gain their lucrative IPL contracts.
    India is no safer than anywhere else, that doesn't mean these matches should go ahead, the chances of another terrorist attack will be minimal, but morally the ECB and ICC should have called the BCCI's bluff and call for a longer period of reflection before resuming.

  • Comment number 24.


    If I may explain: "Once again the ICC just stand by and do nothing" - and for once, justifiably. It is not their call to prevent teams from touring other countries for security reasons - they only provide guidance if there is a dispute over a tour taking place.

    "England have been hoodwinked into going only so the likes of Flintoff and Pietersen can gain their lucrative IPL contracts" - lots of speculation, fair enough I suppose, but the theory doesn't really hold water even if it was true.

    "India is no safer than anywhere else" - we can't play all Test matches in Geneva!

  • Comment number 25.

    Its funny how England are being considered hereos for going back to India to carry on the series whilst when new zealand ran back from pakistan in the bomb blasts those years ago, and they were considered to be doing the right thing.

    I tell you what the difference is, its simple you dont say no to the rich BCCI. If a touring western country does not go to pakistan, no big deal, they do not lose out and they now nothing can be done to them, but if they refuse india, they lose a lot of money and india in turn will not tour them as they got more than enough money.

    Also the IPL is the biggest fatcor, as players will not be able to play the IPL and not get rich. so Englands reasons for returning are pure financial and not bravery, they are hypocrites!

    Bravery would be helping a country whose cricket is nothing existent due to terrisom, we could unite to beat them, but instead we refuse to tour pakistan for simple reason, no money to be made
    It really annoys me when i read articles about England being brave and not let terrorism beat cricket, it s all crap, its all about MONEY!

    I might offend a few people with this but there are many who feel like this but do not want to say

  • Comment number 26.

    Hi Ace

    I was not aware that the English players had the choice of returning to either India or Pakistan. I understood that they were presented with a relatively straightforward choice and chose to return and play cricket in India. What would you rather have had them do?

    There may be hypocrisy in how the world of cricket responds to demands from differing national cricket boards but I don't think that this accusation should be foisted on the English team who considered the Indian situtation in isolation and it must be said witnessed the attrocities in far more detail than we did in the UK.

    I think it's easy to spit bile and pursue hidden agendas particularly in forums such as these. For once it would be good to recognise that a resumption of the series and a step back towards normality has to deliver a net positive benefit to the community and to cricket in Asia irrespective of the overriding decision process.

  • Comment number 27.

    Hi Geraldswine

    i tell you why i think it is financially motivated, how many times have england toured Pakistan since the bomb attacks happened on the tour of New zealand? none???

    How many of the western sides have been there since then? none???

    Once you answer that question, that will tell you why i think it is all financial

    Thank you

  • Comment number 28.

    Very informative article by Oliver as usual. It is always difficult to make any comment about quality blogs as there is nothing much to add or to criticise. Not so the case when it comes to reading the public posts!

    - Michael Vaughan was rightly lauded as being a positive influence on the team, a good man manager and certainly atypical of the dour northerner image associated with many Yorkshire and Lancastrian captains. Negative? Tell that to the Australians in 2005. Frankly, if I were MV I would start a libel case against such an accusation. I realise that everyone is entitled to their opinion but some are so far out of whack they make you wonder if Martians have recently and secretly invaded and are trying to come to grips with the strange game of cricket.

    - A case in point is ace1436 who has already been outed by geraldswine (with some very well crafted and succinct sentences) as having a hidden agenda. Actually, not so hidden really. Maybe ace1436 is annoyed with the naivety of some of the above comments in applauding England's bravery (not really that brave in comparison to what our boys in Afganistan are going through) but this was never mentioned in the article above as Oliver is presumably too smart to make such a claim. I have to guess at ace1436's origin but I would be surprised if he is not originally from 'over' the border as he is obviously not too keen on India. I am sure I am going to offend him and many others of his ilk by saying that if I were a cricketer I would not want to tour Pakistan primarily because I would not want to go there in the first place! I remember defending poor Ian Botham when he made a joke about it being the place you would send your mother-in-law to and getting castigated for this for being politically incorrect. I can state as an individual with no axe to grind who has been all over Pakistan that I hope I never have to go there ever again. I am sure there are more relevent reasons for the lack of tours there but I do not blame anyone for not wanting to go in the fsrst place. Just my opinion of course.

    - On another blog I made the point that England's ODI and Test Teams are two different animals because, well, they are and the international ratings reflect this. Why does anyone think one format has that much to do with the other? Horses for courses as they say. England could not do any worse in the Tests than they did in the ODIs but anyone expecting to see a repeat performance obviously does not watch much or read much about cricket.

    - I am just pleased to see that terrorism has not succeeded in cancelling the tour and I would have been disappointed but not surprised if it had been called off. In this day and age we would not be surprised if any subsequent atrocity causing injury to an England player during the tour led to the ECB being bankrupted by the subsequent legal action. The fact is life goes on and we cannot allow the actions of a fanatical minority to alter planned events like this as we would just be letting them win. To be fair, ace1436 maybe jaundiced in his opinion but money will always help to decide matters like this.

    I would just stick to reading the actual articles in future because some of the comments are so bizarre and surreal but then I come across a pearl like post #26 by geraldswine (I hope that it is geralds wine and not gerald swine!) and my faith in mankind is somewhat restored.

    Regards, Joe.

  • Comment number 29.

    Dear joeperriman

    I actually have nothing against India, so please keep your petty comments to yourself.

    I am as you call it from OVER THE BORDER!

    Also thank you for confirming that the only reason England have gone over to India is financial and not bravery, that is all i was trying to say, nothing about how i do not like india or England.

    i have nothing against England or India, maybe thats what you want, me to say things about India, so a blog can start with India supporters having a go at Pakistan and vice versa, well sorry to disapoint you, that aint gooing to happen

    My comments were simple about how this is about financiual reasons, there was no Dig at any nationality or race, but people like you change a person article to suit your own politcal views.

    I personally do not care if you visit pakistan ever again, that is your personal choice, your entitled to it.

    Thank you for your lovely comments and i bid you farewell


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