No substitute for match-fitness at the highest level

No substitute for match-fitness at the highest level

Mishras plight in Ahmedabad shows the importance of domestic matches

No substitute for match-fitness at the highest level

It is no coincidence that Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Zaheer Khan hit the ground running in the first Test against Sri Lanka, and that Amit Mishra did not. On the face of it, it might appear grossly unfair to compare the vast international experience of the first three with Mishra, still finding his feet at the highest level.

The point, however, is not so much about experience as preparedness. Dravid, Laxman and Zaheer arrived well tuned for the challenges of competitive cricket, and reaped the rewards; Mishra did not, and hence paid a huge penalty.

That’s not to say that the leg-spinner would have run through Sri Lanka had he played a prior game or two. On that dead, unforgiving Motera surface, even Muttiah Muralitharan appeared innocuous. Instead, what game time would have given the Haryana leggie is reasonable rhythm, and therefore some control over his craft in a match situation.
The long bowl – 58 overs for returns of one for 203 – is perhaps just what the 26-year-old needed after eight months away from the first-class game, though he would have been better off having bowled those many deliveries in domestic cricket rather than shedding the cobwebs in the cauldron of Test cricket, and on an unhelpful pitch, at that.
Dravid, Laxman and Zaheer are at that stage of their careers where they know how to manage workloads. They are not unaware of the pitfalls of overexertion, but equally, they realise the importance of time in the middle, of the significance of runs and overs behind them, in the lead-up to an important series.

Despite having played plenty of top-notch cricket in the last couple of months – the tri-series in Sri Lanka, the Champions Trophy in South Africa and the Champions League in India – Dravid felt he owed it to himself as much as to the Indian team to play in two Ranji Trophy games for Karnataka before the Test series. Three half-centuries in four innings put him in the best frame of mind possible, and it was no surprise to see him rise to the challenge at 32 for four with a spectacular 177 on day one of the first Test.
Zaheer hadn’t played any cricket since IPL II in South Africa in May when he hurt his left shoulder whilst fielding. Surgery and rehabilitation out of the way, the left-arm quick turned up for Mumbai and bowled long spells to convince himself that he was up to the rigours of the international game. Likewise, Laxman warmed up with one outing for Hyderabad just before the Motera Test, an effort that stood him in wonderful stead during his second-innings half-century under some pressure.

By contrast, Mishra’s last first-class game was in New Zealand in March. He did play one Champions Trophy match, against the West Indies on September 30, and turned out for the Delhi Daredevils in the Champions League, but his last bowl in a match was on October 19. He travelled with the Indians during the one-dayers against Australia without figuring in the scheme of things, when he would have been better off wheeling down over after over for his State side.

Mishra, of course, is not to blame. Having convinced itself that he had little role in the one-dayers unless there was an emergency, and equally certain that he would play in the first Test, the team management should have released him to do state duties. There is nothing more frustrating for a captain than to see one of his four specialist bowlers struggling for rhythm, sending down long-hops with regularity and stacking up a long list of no-balls, both clear signs of lack of confidence, self-belief and match-bowling.
Already having rewarded S Sreesanth for a poor disciplinary track record by recalling him to the Test squad even though the Kerala pacer has done little of note, the men that matter have done themselves and the team further disservice by sending out the tacit message that traversing the length and the breadth of the country with the national team with little hope of playing a match is more important than getting match-fit by playing domestic cricket. No matter at what price!