Peter Moores made an interesting observation after England's dreadful performance against a Mumbai Second XI during the week. The England coach said he hoped the display would make his squad realise that the events they were about to take part in, seven one-dayers and two Tests in India, were "real".
Moores explained what he meant by the comment yesterday, in the wake of England's humbling 158-run defeat by India in the first one-dayer: in net practice it does not matter if they play a bad shot or bowl a poor ball, but in a match situation, as Kevin Pietersen's side found out in Rajkot, it does.
However, with England's form being as it is, namely poor, it would have been easy to think that Moores was suggesting his players were not 100 per cent focused on the job they are here to perform, but in a surreal space.
India, with its chaotic and contrasting landscape, can create that sort of mindset, especially for someone visiting the country for the first time. On tour England's players do live in a sort of vacuum, staying in opulent hotels where their every whim is catered for. The only time they see the widespread poverty that exists is when they travel from their hotel to the cricket ground, and that journey is in a coach that races through seething streets surrounded by an armed guard.
Their hand luggage as they go from city to city suggests a lack of adventure. Guitars, laptops, PSP players and a dartboard are to be found, accessories that suggest most will leave the country on 24 December having had little or no contact with the real India.
In their defence, the situation is not helped by the security blanket that smothers them. If a player leaves the team hotel he is expected to take a security guard with him, and were he to be recognised while out and about, he would receive endless hassle from overexcited cricket followers. But trying to come to terms with the country they are in and to understand its culture would have a positive effect on the team's performance on the field.
The predicament is exacerbated by what took place in Antigua a fortnight ago. The England management may not be prepared to accept it, but the controversy and confusion surrounding England's quest to win $20 million does seem to have affected the team.
One-day cricket is all about momentum. England had it at the end of the summer when they were thrashing South Africa, then ranked second best in the world, 4-0. Time away can cause the commodity to be diluted, and England's players had a six-week break between the final game against South Africa and travelling to Antigua.
But it is more likely that focus was lost in the preparation for the match against Stanford's Super Stars. Few sportsmen have the chance to earn $1m for a night's work, but the constant questioning the England players faced about money and the integrity of the game they were about to play must have led them to wonder if they really wanted to win it. To go into a match where so much is at stake with such an attitude would be a unique experience, and England could still be trying to come to terms with these emotions.
The management are concerned about the mindset of the team, and the fact that they are yet to sign their central contracts cannot be helping. Why else would Pietersen and Moores continually talk about their players being able to switch their minds on for the big matches when they come around? Whether sportsman can switch form on and off is debatable. They must also have pride in their performance, never wanting to let themselves down no matter what the game is. They need to rise to the occasion here tomorrow. Should England lose the second one-dayer in similar style, it is hard to see them coming back into the series.
If they are to challenge India, they must take wickets with the new ball. If they don't, they will keep conceding 300-plus runs. In Rajkot the attack lacked variety, and the only player who can provide them with that is Ryan Sidebottom. But England are reluctant to play the left-arm seamer until he has fully recovered from a calf strain.
"Ryan is nearly there but we want to be careful," said Moores. "We're a little bit wary because he's had a long time out of competitive cricket, and the last time we brought him back, in the Stanford practice game, he tweaked something. No matter how much you bowl in practice, it is different in a match when the adrenalin starts to flow. We have waited a long timenow and we want to make sure he isabsolutely fit before we let him go."
England will consider recalling Graeme Swann, but the ground here is small and the selectors are aware of how aggressive India are against slow bowling. So they are likely to name an unchanged side, but Moores wants his fast bowlers to be more aggressive, especially against Yuvraj Singh, who can be unsettled by the short ball.
Yuvraj, who scored a brilliant, unbeaten 138 with a sore back on Friday, is India's only doubt, but the hosts could be strengthened by the return of their star fast bowler, Ishant Sharma.Reuse content