Cruising through a crisis

It may seem obvious that England are under immense pressure heading into the first Test match against India on Wednesday, but in actuality, it should be the opposite.

Michael Vaughan is perhaps the most crucial on a growing injured list within the squad and with leadership already lacking, vice-captain Marcus Trescothick returned home in a last minute decision for personal reasons. Crisis is indeed the word to describe the dismantling of an England squad which hoped to rebound from defeat in Pakistan and prove that last year’s Ashes glory was no lucky strike.

In these testing times the burden should be lightened, however, when all things are considered and the situation be analyzed in a less-then-cynical light. For many, the England cricketers were never expected to win in India, even with an ideal player pool at the disposal of the selectors. Indeed, there is good reason why the subcontinent is considered the final frontier.

England may have beaten the best in the world, but now they face the “best at home”. That the English tourists would lose was almost a foregone conclusion in the eyes of the general public. The batsmen will struggle to adapt to the spinning conditions and the bowlers will be frustrated by the quality of the Indian batsmanship – firm predictions. Negativity aside, it was still expected that the Ashes champions would pose a sufficient challenge to justify a 2-point lead over India in the ICC Test rankings.

Now it is far less than an England first XI that will match up to the impending mountain that is this series. No more is this tidbit epitomized than the high likelihood of 21-year-old Alastair Cook debuting at Nagpur on Wednesday, having been with the England ‘A’ team in the West Indies mere days before.

Giles is absent, so Monty Panesar may also receive his first Test cap at the age of 23 and with just 29 games of First Class experience. A troublesome knee and a home-bound Vaughan, and Freddie Flintoff will be forced to add yet another skill to his growing resume.

So no pressure then? Absolutely.

The devastating pre-series buildup for England has eliminated four players from the Test squad and sees four others carrying injuries or sickness. More importantly though, it has eliminated a lion’s share of pressure from an England perspective. These cricketers were not expected to win in India in the first place, and now the expectation is a step further as India should not only beat the tourists, but deal out a thrashing upon the second-ranked team in the world.

At times when there is only one direction in which to stride, it generally tends to be up. Anything England can accomplish on this tour will only augur well for the future. Contrary to popular belief, life is easier for the underdogs. England’s favourite Aussie, Shane Warne once said, “Pressure is the fear of failing.” If no one believes that England will succeed, surely that fear becomes obsolete.

Now India is the team with the pressure on, in the same manner as an Australian team against Bangladesh. Losing is no longer an option, no less in front of thousands of some of the most passionate supporters in any international sport. Excuses are all but futile in the Indian camp and there will be no shortage of criticism should the seeming inevitable not occur. The stage is potentially set for a modern day English reversal.

They did it at Edgbaston last year and scripted a famous win en route to reclaiming the Ashes in historic fashion. On the first day of that match, Trescothick and Strauss ignited a stunning charge of casual arrogance against the Australian masters of the art. Thrilled at the opportunity, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff then forced the agenda to glorious effect. After the debacle of the first Test match of that series, and the rants of “same old same old”, there seemed nothing to lose at the time, so England settled for victory instead.

Fast forward to 2006 and the eve of another major Test series. Forget the drama and disappointment of Pakistan – it means little in the current context. This England team has been forced onto the back foot and consequently can now only make forward movements. England likely will not win in India this year, but it is not for any great shame.

Every delivery that Panesar spins, every ball that Cook negotiates, every tactic that Flintoff executes – building blocks. Subcontinental success may not come for England in 2006, but with this experience gained in the face of great adversity, that achievement and those greater still surely are not far off.


Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Ashley Giles, Andrew Flintoff, Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen.

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