Four men are hired to save a rich rancher’s wife in Mexico. The rancher picks four people with particular skills to form the ultimate team. The film is called the professionals. Andy Flower is probably a fan of this film, and not just because of Woody Strobe and Lee Marvin, but because it fits his ethos.
England got to the top of the world by being more professional than every other team in the world. Their selections were impeccable. Everyone did their job. They made each other better. Choked with the ball, dulled with the bat, take all chances. Preparation was key. They believed they could win. And they won a bunch of series on the way to number one.
Then things fell apart in the UAE. Saeed Ajmal does that to people, but England seemed to play like every Pakistani was Ajmal like, and they lost. In Sri Lanka they had Ajmal flash backs, before ending up 1-1. At home against the West Indies they did what they needed to do and nothing more.
Then South Africa turned up. And they did what England had been doing for a while, made no mistakes.
England made many. Their batsmen who had built foundations on common sense and minimizing risk suddenly played at balls they should have left. Their bowlers lost pace. The fielding fell down. Inside the changing room was a disaster. And their captain was on the way out.
The professional well put together team was missing key components and fighting amongst itself.
Yet they went back to basics. Sri Lanka could have played three Test series and fitted in a series of ODIs against India in the time England used just for warm up matches. Short of moving to Chennai, they couldn’t have spent any longer over there. It was the old England. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
At the height of England’s run, bowlers didn’t play with injuries that often. They believed in their back ups, and wouldn’t risk losing a bowler mid match.
In this Test they went with Broad, now perhaps he was fully fit. Perhaps he wasn’t. But once Broad played, Bresnan had to be more likely (even without his reverse swing in the last warm up), and that meant they were taking in a potentially injured bowler and leaving out a spinner on a wicket that from all accounts looked like it would have taken spin the day before the Test.
Then they fielded. And it was bad. Matt Prior’s keeping looked like the Matt Prior of the bad old days. Jonathan Trott seemed surprised at slip. And Jimmy Anderson seemed to be looking at Pujara’s lofted mistake like he had 2D eyes. They were the chances they missed. But there was also a look of flatness about them. Some balls were shepherded to the boundary. Dives were done to prove they had dived. And the energy was low.
That also lead to the run rate getting out of control. Now, everyone gets Sehwaged once in a while. But it also took them hours to slow down Pujara who as classy as he is, is a man who often slows himself down. The control and patience of the English attack was nowhere. Too many boundaries came at the end of otherwise good overs. India were 61 runs into their innings before Swann came on to slow it down.
Cook captained in the same way that most of his team fielded.
England may still salvage this Test, although it’s pretty doubtful. They might even win the series. But they won’t do either without what got them there in the first place. And perhaps they can’t. Things change. Right at the moment England look more like a middling side with issues than a team about to storm back to number one.
Watching Sehwag and Pujara flay their attack while their fielders looked like little more than CGI extras I remembered a line from Burt Lancaster in the professionals, “Makes you wonder how we ever beat the Indians.”
We can remember how and why they beat India, but 4-0 is a fading memory.