The former England captain Naseer Hussain has asked the struggling English team to simply go to Lucknow and beat the high-flying men in blue just to spoil their party. As a pep talk, it is fine but it is so un-English sans the subtlety, the quintessential English tongue firmly in cheek, laced with a grin and humour.
But one can’t blame Naseer Hussain for being non-English. His World Cup defending cricket team hasn’t been “English” either. Jos Butler and his men are playing so below par, with their stalwarts performing like pale alter egos, with words like Bazball, (a term coined to denote England’s aggressive approach under their test coach Brendon McCullum nicknamed Baz) sounding like a faint beep from a forgotten past.
Naseer Hussain can be excused for uncharacteristic advice- play not as much to redeem your honour as to spoil India’s party. What he has missed is that India’s party card for a semi-final berth has been sent for printing. Mathematically if India wins even one of its remaining four games, they get to the semis.
But Naseer, who was born in Chennai and has Indian origins needs to know that there is a bit of history stacked against him and his team in the city of Lucknow. Though it has nothing to do with cricket but history, it does have everything to do with the English.
According to the Archaeological Survey of India’s report, “The Lucknow Residency lying to the south of Gomti river, its roofless buildings and smashed walls sprawling in a vast area of 33 acres stand witness to one of the most memorable sieges of this British stronghold by the Avadh forces in 1857.
The foundation of the famous Residential complex called Residency was laid by Nawab Asaf-ud-daula of Avadh in 1775 after the court moved from Faizabad to Lucknow with a view to accommodate British visitors. With growing need, in the course of time, a number of buildings were added to this complex and thus achieved the shape of an exclusive European settlement”However, the ASI writes, “
This was the spark of the first war of Independence.
Times have changed. India is the master of her own destiny as a country and in cricket.
For England to spoil any party, or even have one of its own they need their stars Bairstow, Butler, and Root to fire. Ben Stokes, as just the batsman can still be dangerous and be either the rocket that fires or the firewall that defends. But this Big Ben has not quite been ticking, with his chimes and resonance that Ben the bowler and Ben the batsman had.
When Ben ticks, as he did in the T20 World Cup in Australia, England keeps time with destiny. When he doesn’t, it is often time to go for England. October 29 vs India will settle that question, at least for this World Cup,
For India, only cricketing suicide will keep them out of the semi-finals irrespective of which way its ‘Luck-now’ goes. The challenge is to find a new balance after reports that Hardik Pandya ( India’s version of Ben Stokes) will be out for two or more games. It boils down to the fifth bowler slot. A decision will involve looking at dropping the man of the match in the previous game Md. Shami who took five wickets, or play Ravichandran Ashwin, especially against England’s left-handers Dawid Malan, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes.
Unlike the rebellious soldiers of Awadh, Rohit Sharma’s team just needs to do what they have been doing in auto mode- Rohit’s decisive captaincy, freewheeling batting, Kohli’s and Rahul’s solidity on one side, and flawless pace and spin bowling on the other. The test is, on a bad day in the office, which of the departments or individuals come to the rescue? India passed it in its opener against Australia, after reeling at 5/3. A few tests now wouldn’t be a bad thing, since the knockout stages are approaching.
But in Lucknow with its kebabs, nawabs, and with the “nawabi”( royal and laid back) attitude, much like Goa’s susegad, India still looks favourites to be the Kohinoors of this cricket world cup.