LONDON: One of the oddest cricket seasons India has played in England gets under way next week with the start of the World Test Championship at the Aegis Bowl cricket grounds in Southampton. India have been net practicing around the grounds increasingly over two weeks now past all the testing and wait periods in between. Over those two weeks the New Zealand team that got in before India, have played one Test, and would have completed the second before they meet India in the WTC Test from June 18.
It is usual for a visiting team, and it has been usual for the Indian team visiting England, to play a number of county matches and other matches to get some match practice in ahead of the first Test they play. This time India go straight into the game that matters, to play a much tested and Test-ready New Zealand.
And so with the women, preparing for their four-day Test against England starting Bristol. Most of the English women players have been playing busily through various league matches. The Indian women go more or less straight into it with their Test.
Following the women’s game, as it deserves to be followed, has hardly been made easy. The third and fourth day of the women’s game are the first and second day of the WTC match. The schedule overlap has made sure that the women’s game, always at an attention disadvantage against men, will be overlooked more than it might otherwise have been.
Summer of 42
Then follows the summer of 42 for India when India play no match at all, an arrangement that former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar is far from the only one finding “absurd” and “weird”. So for a month and a half the India team just hang around. The weather could be enticingly mild. The players have been allowed to come with family. It ought to be a personally pleasant time.
England meanwhile get on with the game from the day after the WTC is due to end. They begin their T20 matches against Sri Lanka from June 23. England then go on to play more matches against Pakistan, to keep them match-fit and test and try new players in time for the Test series against India that begins only on August 4 at Trent Bridge in Nottingham. All through those days the Indian players only play amongst themselves as they can.
After the end of the first Test, India and England play the next at Lord’s with just a three-day gap. Then an eight-day gap before the third Test at Headingley in Leeds. Following that, again just three-day gaps before the fourth Test at the Oval and the final at Old Trafford. Straight after playing nobody for 14 days, New Zealand for five days, then nobody for 42 days, India play five Test matches in 45 days.
The BCCI has been sounding upbeat over these arrangements. It has described the present position before the WTC while India play nobody as New Zealand get in two Tests as “perfect”. One reason the BCCI would call it that is that it agreed this itinerary in the first place.
But Indian captain Virat Kohli too has expressed much joy over this schedule. “I feel like when you are done with the World Test Championship, I think it is a great opportunity to refresh, restructure,” he told media before heading to England with the tea, June 3. “It will give us time to regroup and refresh as a side and prepare again for a long series and that kind of a set-up is very important before you go into a lengthy series. We know that playing five Tests in England can be very challenging and daunting so we want to have the most amount of time before that series to set for those five games and be in that zone from there on.”
Kohli said also that the 42-day gap would give “a little bit of freedom to go out and access the kind of things the locals had.” That most certainly. And when it comes to the play, the Indian team has two winners up their sleeves – talent and grit. A lot of fans out there are waiting for those to shine through despite the schedule, or as Kohli suggests, because of it.