By Derek Pringle
I don’t know if it was just me, but did anyone else find India’s decision to snip a day off their tour match against Essex because of hot weather, well, just laughable?
Agreed well in advance, by contract, Essex’s match against the tourists, still a highlight of county fixture lists, was scheduled for four days. But with a high pressure system stuck over Europe, which has led to a spell of hot, dry weather, India’s think-tank has decided four would be too stressful prior to the first Test which begins next Wednesday, and cut it down to three.
The temperature during the match was predicted to peak at 33C, which is a chilly day during the cricket season in Mumbai. Although tours to India take place during their winter, there is no way Chelmsford is hotter than Chennai where, over the years, countless England players have played matches to their original conclusion.
Part of the challenge for sides touring other countries is the hassle/pleasure/duty (delete as appropriate) to play these ancillary matches. Home advantage is meant to be just that, and if the unsung county player can press it home further by wearing out the opposition in tour matches, so much the better.
There were reports too, in Indian news outlets, that the visitors also had concern over the dry outfield at Chelmsford, considering it a potential hazard to players. Rough outfields? What a cheek. India invented them.
As a final insult to injury, the tourists insisted on playing more than 11-a-side, a confection which immediately removed the match’s first-class status. Anyone making a hundred for the county or taking five-for will therefore not have it recorded in the proper manner. No big deal to India’s pampered millionaires, but a potential career highlight for a county pro.
For this last bit I blame Duncan Fletcher. As England coach he was the first to systematically field teams on tour that comprised more than 11-a-side. The practice only stopped when the Schofield report, following England’s Ashes whitewash in 2006/7, found such practice to be unsatisfactory preparation for Test cricket. No surprise, then, following India’s latest request, to discover that Fletcher was their coach between 2011-15.
The whole thing is a disappointment on several fronts. Firstly, it is a big event which the club have sold out both in terms of tickets and hospitality for all four days. Their efforts and hard work are therefore being punished. I’m told Essex will be compensated for any loss of revenue by the England and Wales Cricket Board, which is only right. Yet the administrative hassle of recompensing food and drink outlets, ticket holders etc remains both huge and inconsiderate.
Then there is the PR damage towards those whose only chance to attend might have been on Saturday, the last day of the match until it was removed. Indian cricket teams attract huge followings among their global diaspora and there is a large South Asian population in Essex keen to watch them. As much as anyone this act spites those of them unable to come except at the start of the weekend.
Lastly, the arrogance of the Board of Control for Cricket in India to expect that this would be done at a moment’s notice, and then the supplication of the ECB in acceding to their demands, shows just how the county game is little more than a minor irritant to either – a piece of gum stuck to the soles of their shoes.
Gone are the days when India would have been grateful for the tour let alone the helpful preparation to acclimatise.
Of course now India are the world’s wealthiest, most powerful cricketing country, you upset them at your peril – something the ECB were no doubt mindful of when they asked Essex to bend their knee to this latest demand.
Perhaps part of it is that India feel there is suddenly less need to get used to English conditions, the hot, dry weather making pitches more like those found in the Sub-continent. Mind you, there is a move, generally, away from teams using tour games to settle selection issues and more to see them as a bit of glorified net practice. And who wants four successive days of nets?
What might have happened had the ECB held both their nerve and India to their tour contract, which included a four-day game at Essex, is not known? The BCCI, which is currently run by India’s judiciary, is unpredictable to say the least and Virat Kohli’s side might not have turned up to Chelmsford at all.
If all that wasn’t enough there were further demands made by this Indian team, the principle one being that their wives, families and friends – not surely part of Essex’s responsibility – were housed comfortably at the ground in an air-conditioned sponsor’s box.
It wasn’t that long ago that most right-minded people would laugh in disbelief at the riders some rock bands demanded before they played a venue, such as Kanye West’s insistence on having imported Versace towels. Today’s pampered cricket stars are beginning to push the envelope almost as much, though not before a healthy degree of realism intervened at Essex. As one committee man there put it: “Don’t they know this is Chelmsford not Caesar’s Palace.”
Of course there is an argument that although India’s cricketers do play in far hotter temperatures at home, their time spent off the field is more comfortable, hot places being better geared to keeping rooms, cars, trains and hotels cool.
It is also true that when extremes of weather hit the UK, suffering among the general population tends to rise. With that in mind I hope India use their extra day off wisely, and don’t spend it stuck in traffic heading to Birmingham.