Forget all that purist jargon about Test matches being the game of the gods, the real stuff starts now. Anybody who doubted for a single moment the power of one-day cricket in India should have been here when Nasser Hussain hit town yesterday. He chose the moment to effectively end an era in English cricket. If Alec Stewart was listening somewhere he can be in no doubt that his international career will probably never resume and that James Foster is the new wicketkeeper-batsman for now and the future.
Hussain stopped short of saying: "The king is dead, long live the king" but, given the sheer volume of his audience, not by much. At a rough guess – which was all that was possible in the considerable crush – there were 20 television crews, 50 radio reporters and more newspapermen than most right-minded people would care to consort with in a lifetime, let alone a single gathering. Only two of this assembled throng were English who did not have a chance to get a word in.
Hussain had to be guided through the mass of bodies to his place on the top table. The scene before where he was sitting could have provided the prototype for the phrase "a phalanx of microphones". When it was all done he had to make hurriedly for a side door. And all this came only four hours after the England squad had arrived in Calcutta and been escorted from the airport amid tight, multi-gun-wielding security.
Hussain had never seen anything quite like it. Indeed, it is probable that only The Beatles, who last came to India for consultation with the Maharishi Yogi when the England captain had less hair than he does now, had witnessed such an awesome media scrum first hand. It demonstrated what Indians think of the shorter form of the game, of England and of Hussain (though perhaps before building it up too much it should be pointed that had Sachin Tendulkar been in sight the mêlée would have been multiplied).
It means that something in excess of 100,000 people will attend the opening game of the six-match series at Eden Gardens a week today. How much in excess depends on how many manage to get in without paying – and all matches will be sell-outs. As Hussain said, none of his inexperienced team will have seen anything like it. "As they'll all be supporting India I'd prefer it to be half full," he said.
As a significant part of England's preparations for the World Cup in South Africa next year it could hardly be improved upon. The fervour of the crowds will leave no player in any doubt that they are in a big game. Hussain made no great claims for his team, but he did not succumb to probings about their weaknesses either. "It's all about putting pressure on the opposition in one-day cricket. None of our side will have seen anything like it and it will be a real eye-opener for our young lads and even myself. India have got a good record of reaching finals and losing them. There are no finals here but they have shown they could crack under pressure and that's what we'll be working on."
England are racing against time to be ready for the World Cup, though Hussain claimed he did not know what his team would be in Calcutta, never mind South Africa 14 months' hence. However, his hint about Stewart was incontrovertible.
Asked how the veteran wicketkeeper-batsman's (voluntary) absence in India would affect England's balance he said: "We've got to move on from there. James Foster is our wicketkeeper now. He's shown he's improving every game. At his young age he's going to have dips in form more than Alec Stewart would but we've got to stick with him. That's very important to the future of English cricket." The real stuff and a new era all at once.Reuse content