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India vs England, 4th Test: Two weddings, a funeral and a desert jaunt

The Indian Express logoThe Indian Express 07-12-2016

Bare-bodied in a boat in Dubai, a wedding in Goa, another coming up soon, a funeral in Chennai, and a whiff of a controversy between a coach and a captain. Much has happened in a week of no-cricket between England and India that it was mildly jarring to see the cricketers training on a warm day in Mumbai.

Stuart Broad, who is fighting against time to get fit for the Test that starts on December 8, and James Anderson have a fairly long casual chat with Mike Atherton by the sidelines of the nets. Both the bowlers later bowl — shortened run-up as they ease themselves in. Couple of hours later, Atherton would be in a salon having a facial, visuals splashed across the world wide web by the prankster Joe Root.

A week’s break didn’t use to mean much in the years gone by; heck we even had a rest-day during a Test. But in these frenetic times, a week seems to stretch beyond seven days. This interval in particular has been rather interesting. If anyone needed a bit of legs-up time, it was England. It wasn’t the post-victory sun-downers but a bit of rest and recuperation after successive losses. Not often does a team’s captain talks about how “jaded” the team is at the end of the first Test of a five-game series. This would be their 30th Test in 14 months and sixth in the last month-and-half, no wonder they feel jaded.

The conspiracy-hunters can smile — after threatening to be a dull series, finally we have some spice. The Daily Mirror has decided enough is enough and sprung into action with a headline: ‘England coach Trevor Bayliss wants more positive batting from team, told to play safe by captain Alastair Cook’. This is the crux of the affair. Bayliss isn’t chuffed with the negative batting of the team in the last three innings and feels the time has come for him to step in and take over the communication of the team. “Probably over the last few series, Cooky has taken on more of a role there, which has been great, but I think for the coming couple of Tests it is time I stepped up to the mark to just remind them of how we have played when we have played well … in the last three innings we have changed that mindset to more along the lines of survival, and when some of our naturally more positive players try to play that way they were in two minds. It will be up to me to play a role there,” Bayliss has told the English journalists. It seems an innocuous remark but in the background of Cook’s talk about resigning from captaincy before the start of the series, something seems to be brewing. Lines are being crossed, or that’s how some English journos are interpreting.

Hard losses in tours have a way of throwing up such developments, and it must have made immense for them to switch off from cricket in Dubai. Instagrammed moments of Root, Broad, Anderson and Ben Duckett, the Richard Blakey of this tour if you get the drift, in a boat emerged. Jos Buttler is also seen posing with his girlfriend in the beach, with the famous Burj Al Arab hotel as the backdrop. Sun, sand, and water – better than sun and sand whipping up a devilish combo on a dry cracking Indian pitch.

Meanwhile, the Indian cricketers too had hit the beach-sands of Goa for the wedding of Yuvraj Singh after wrapping up the Vizag Test in a hurry. Controversies don’t gatecrash when you are winning, so the media cooked up some for them over the absence of MS Dhoni in the wedding party. The more things change… yada yada yada. Yuvraj is done, next up Ishant Sharma on the 9th in Delhi. Indian wedding scene is certainly here for the cricketers in these demonetised times.

A funeral of a political leader though is keeping the board officials, if not the players, on tenterhooks. After a two-day struggle by the doctors and a death watch beamed live on national televisions, J Jayalalithaa was buried alongside her mentor MGR at the Marina beach, a short walk from the stadium in Chennai. The city and the state of Tamil Nadu have been relatively calm but those living outside have let their stereotypical fears grip them. A Ranji match that was set to start on Wednesday in Dindigul has been postponed, with BCCI telling the cricketers to hole themselves inside the hotel for the day. On Tuesday, in Mumbai, the secretary of the board Ajay Shirke talked about how they going to wait and watch the proceedings in Tamil Nadu, where the next Test is scheduled to start on 16, before they make any decision whether to shift the venue.

In the here and now, though, India would wait and see whether the R&R has done England any good. Would Bayliss get what he desires — a more positive England? Would Cook stay as a captain when the tour ends? Sometimes, a week can feel like a month.

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