Reader: Consider two cricket teams—India and England—both alike in dignity. Both sides are in transition: even though their star players may have departed to the skyboxes and commentary positions, both teams are blessed with plenty of youthful talent—to wit, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, and Virat Kohli for the subcontinentals; Joe Root, Jos Buttler, and Mooen Ali for the frozen northerners. As India arrives in England for a five-match Test series, the appetite is whetted by England’s shocking 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Sri Lankans (whose first series victory in England this is) and calls for England’s adamantine captain, Alastair Cook, to resign. India may lack box-office appeal (no Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman, or Virendar Sehwag in this party), but the side’s phlegmatic captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni seems, typically, unworried: the talent may be raw, but it is talent nonetheless.
After a stalemate in the first match, England collapse in the second (at Lord’s!—the Home of Cricket!!—in a bicentenary year!!!) and there is much gnashing of teeth. The murmers that Cook should resign become a roar; “get rid of the old timers,” yell the pundits and prognosticators, “all is doomed!” To cap off the excitement, England’s bowling sensation, James Anderson, as ferocious a competitor on the pitch as he is meek and mild off it, is involved in what diplomats would call “an incident” with the richly hirsute all-rouder Ravindra Jadeja. Words were exchanged, personal space was breached, and the Indians are upset. They take Jadeja’s cause to a tribunal, which exonerates both players, but somehow the Indians can’t let it go.
Before you know it, three Test matches have gone by and India have lost the lot of them—by huge margins. Alastair Cook finds his mojo; James Anderson grits his teeth and hoops the ball every which way to take 25 wickets in the series; and the young English players outperform the young Indians in every department. A sure series victory for the tourists becomes a crushing defeat.
I (Martin) am generally skeptical about the psy-ops aspects of contemporary sports. But in this case it really does seem that England—or, more particularly, Anderson—got under the Indians’ skin, causing them to play loose shots, lose focus, and generally not concentrate enough for the long haul that is Test cricket. India and England now play a five one-day games. This format of the game is meant to be India’s forté, although in Ian Bell, Joe Root, and Jos Buttler England have the men to meet fire with fire. And Jimmy Anderson will steam in to bowl.