There are few things better than watching cricket on a sunny afternoon in England. Above all, cricket is subject to conditions, batsmen rarely have a free ride and bowlers always ask awkward questions. Weather can disrupt a good day’s play but that uncertainty—about whether and when it will rain—adds to the romance of English cricket.
Watching the telecast is also a pleasant relief as the viewer is spared the constant barrage of commercials sprinkled throughout the game. Also, commentary is soothing and insightful, not the screechy, breathless variety that tests your patience.
The real treat, however, is catching the action ‘live’ as the on-ground spectator experience is unmatched. Getting to the ground is easy, finding seats is not a problem and there is plenty to eat and drink. Fans not only welcome but respect.
While television tells only half the story – you only see what the camera is showing – the stadium offers an uninterrupted 360-degree view. You notice interesting things that would otherwise be hidden. At Edgbaston, during the Root/Bairstow carnage, Pant and Kohli gave skipper Bumrah a helping hand, encouraging the bowlers, moving square leg closer to the umpire and asking the point to go a little deeper.
The game looks easy on television because the raw intensity of the competition is not captured. But watching ‘live’ you’ll notice the fielders are standing too close to the cut angles and they don’t have time to react when the ball flies off the bat – catching or stopping something by instinct and intuition. The buzz on the field is real and the crowd, sensing the raw energy and drama, gets absorbed in the action. Even those sitting 100 yards from the crease rise to plead for leg before, louder and with more conviction than a slip cordon when the ball misses a leg by a mile.
What’s less fascinating is watching Kohli’s batting directly, despite the body language of the players, the captain’s helpless shoulders or his run famine. He was jeered by the English supporters as he walked on, but he looked like a proud landlord with a space, not a tenant on a low lease.
A closer look at Jadeja, arguably the game’s best fielder, standing on stage. He scratches his fielding position with his spikes, then takes a cautious start as the bowler runs away, literally a tiger on the prowl. Also, Pujara tapping his bat to smooth out non-existent uneven patches on the pitch holds the drama.
Watching the team practice in the morning an hour before the game, a pre-game ritual, is interesting. Coach Dravid keeps track of the players kicking the football and the elaborate slip catching routine of Kohli and Iyer. Near the boundary, in front of the pavilion, the batsmen knock cautiously, looking for the experience of middling the ball. A short distance away, next to the match strip, bowlers mark the run-ups with tape and aim for a stump. Ashwin, not on eleven, turns his arm and Shami does his practice with the medicine ball.
India lost the Test but cricket’s victory in England was complete. Indians buy tickets to keep the box office busy, they paint their faces, carry hampers packed with sandwiches and snacks. Indian fans are a noisy bunch; They encourage the players with chants of ‘Jeetega Jeetega’, wave the flag and there is a dhol to add to the entertainment.
LED boards around the floor flash marketing messages for Indian mobiles, bicycles, cement companies and the inevitable pan masala. The site-screen has advertisement messages in Hindi. If English cricket were given a commercial wish, they would ask without hesitation to tour India every year to play 5 Tests.
While England had reasons to cheer after Edgbaston, this match sent a tough message to the Indian team. Did India miss a trick by fielding Ashwin? Should we start separating players not just on red-ball/white-ball criteria, but on a home/away basis? In this case we have Iyer at number 6 or Rahane who is a bit runless but is a good choice as he is made of pure technical wood. Also, isn’t it time Gill repays the trust reposed in him by the selectors and honors the talent he was blessed with.
It was a one-off Test and a one-off loss thanks to some brilliant batting by Root and Bairstow. Play and miss in the first innings, balls going past the edge. But on day four and five nothing but wide bats and crashing shots. Teams don’t usually get close to 400 in the last innings but it’s so easy here, England’s highest chase in 1,052 Tests since 1877!