James Lawton: Arrogance to blame if India abdicate their No 1 throne

Top-ranked Test side have been sidetracked by the riches of the shorter forms of the game – and they may well pay the price

The big question at Trent Bridge today has nothing to do with the tight hamstring of big Chris Tremlett or the old, periodically fatal virus called hubris that used to assail the English cricket psyche.

Tremlett, brilliantly though he has emerged in the last year, is certainly not irreplaceable and where England once had a serious swaggering tendency after even minor triumphs, they now look like a team with both enough leadership and intrinsic character to handle quite evenly the possibility that very soon they may well be the world's No 1-ranked team.

No, most fascinating beside the Trent today are the mystic imponderables of India.

Can they put behind them the degree to which they were put to the sword at Lord's last Monday?

Can they show that along with some of the still most enviable skills in world cricket, they have the appetite to fight, to show they have sufficient residual pride to prevent some awful repeat of the surrender on People's Monday?

The alternative, let's be honest, is a terrible prospect. It is an abandonment of years of superb achievement, a betrayal of all that came to be represented by the old guard of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.

At Lord's only Dravid, on the third day, reminded us of the quality that made India's surpassing of the great Australian empire so inevitable. Only he looked comfortable in the skin of a leader of the world game. Over the next few days he has to revisit such high ground in the company of Tendulkar, hopefully recovered from his virus, and Laxman. Most vitally, the entire Indian team have to look much less of a parody of the best Test force in the world. Can they do it? Cricket will be much poorer for their failure.

On the top of the natural sadness that accompanies the decline of any great team, there will be the suspicion that unlike the Aussies, who simply ran out of great players in a debilitating rush, India have not so much eroded as abdicated.

Abdicated, that is, their role as the cricket nation of the richest talent best equipped to play all forms of the game.

And why? Maybe because they got too rich, too arrogant too sure about their ability to cherry-pick the profits that came with the explosion of popularity, however fleeting, of Twenty20, and their eventually nerveless triumph in the recent World Cup. The Indian conclusion, all the evidence suggests, is that they were simply good enough to skim along, riding their natural gifts and luxuriating in their newly achieved, money-based power.

They could jam up the schedules with the one-day cash jamboree and they could come to Lord's, which used to be the home of cricket, with a frankly insulting level of preparation in local conditions for a Test series which had the now proven potential to determine that No 1 ranking. Three days down in Somerset was sufficient, they reckoned.

It was a calculation of the schedulers that must have brought dismay to the old but still zealously pro Duncan Fletcher.

Zaheer Khan, their best strike bowler, came to Lord's in no shape for a world heavyweight title contest. The moment he was submitted to the stresses and strains of Test combat, as opposed to the pyrotechnic flurries of the Indian Premier League, he quite literally groaned to a halt before the end of the first day. Praveen Kumar bowled with sustained intelligence and Ishant Sharma briefly lifted Indian hearts with work of brilliant bite – but it was too little and, in the end, it seemed only to underline the degree of Indian neglect.

You do not send in champions, no more than a leg of mutton, so shamefully undercooked.

But the Indians did it, presumably because they thought they could get away with it – as they did with their outrageous sabotage of the DRS system which had proved such a force of enlightenment and natural justice in recent major series.

It means that what is expected by those of us romantic enough to back the class of India in this hugely important series is more than some encouraging evidence that they have found the appetite to fight. What is looked for is something like full-scale redemption. But then how would we define such a thing?

Importantly, there would be some manifestation in the field. A degree of urgency, a hint that what was happening was about more than another routine shift of instant gratification cricket when you hit or you miss but tomorrow you will have another go. There would be the demeanour of champions, conscious that they were fighting for something hard won that should not be so easily abandoned.

Dravid showed so much of it on that third day and in the late sunshine of Sunday night, when he and Laxman batted with patience that at times was nothing less than imperious. James Anderson, Tremlett and Stuart Broad were a formidable crew, no doubt, but Dravid and Laxman were suddenly inviting them to do their best with no certainty of success.

Their wickets were, however, thrown away quickly enough on the following morning and what followed lacked only the defeatist adornment of a white flag. A repeat of such irresolution in Nottingham will just not do, certainly, if the meaning of a great team is to at least be preserved before it finally gallops off into history.

Such teams come and go like the seasons, of course, but with the success there is a certain responsibility. It is to go out as you came in, filled with pride and competitive intensity.

India has three Test matches in which to revive such a way of playing and thinking. That they do so is important not just for them but all of Test cricket, that superior form of the game for which they have been so long so outstandingly suited. They also owe it to the dreams they once so beautifully excited wherever cricket is cherished.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot