England and India have a point to prove to each other in the upcoming Test series. England will want to show that their 4-0 victory at home was not just because they had tailor-made pitches for their pace bowlers. On the other hand, India will want to give England a taste of their own medicine on spin-friendly wickets.
For two players, however, this would simply form the backdrop for their own personal battles. The South African migrant to England, Kevin Pietersen, has returned to the England squad after being thrown out when his SMS messages to his former compatriots during the recent South African tour of England came to light. He made many snide remarks about his former captain Andrew Strauss in particular.
Whether England were right to hound him out or not, it became immediately clear that he was their best batsman. England lost their No. 1 Test position to South Africa, and then looked rudderless in the T20 World Cup. The subsequent patch-up with Pietersen and his inclusion for the India tour will certainly give them more spine. And Pietersen himself will want to cock a snook at his many detractors in England.
On the Indian side too, there will be a player whose thoughts will be on the gallery more than on his team, one would imagine. After four Test series without a century, and a poor show for Mumbai Indians in the just concluded Champions League, people have finally started asking him uncomfortable questions. That he showed up to play for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy after all these years indicates how desperate Sachin Tendulkar is to have a last hurrah for his PR machinery to drum up as another great achievement.
The Ahmedabad pitch, where the first Test will be played from November 15, may well be his ally in the image restoration project. For, despite all the talk of revenge, I suspect the pitch at the Motera stadium will be just as placid as it was in the last two Tests played there which ended in boring draws.
A draw will not bother Tendulkar much, however, because his supporters in the media and cricket establishment are so adept at projecting his scores as milestones to be celebrated regardless of what happens to the team. Remember we lost to Bangladesh when he got his hundredth ton.
Really, we should probably have a system where individual records are discarded if they come in drawn or lost causes. That may incentivise such players to work harder in the team’s cause by stepping up the scoring rate or whatever.
In the absence of any such checks, however, we may again see a couple of individual performances almost taking precedence over the India-England clash. One can understand the need to worship heroes, but to me it is a spoilsport if their performances have little relation to the point of the game, which is to combine as a team to win.
On the other hand, if the game is result-oriented, and Tendulkar and Pietersen are striving that much harder because of their personal situation, then it may contribute to the operatic nature of good Test cricket. Let’s hope against hope that the latter scenario is what we will get, because after so much of T20 cricket I would think everyone is ready for the Tests, both individual and collective.