India's preparations for the match underway at Centurion were threadbare.
No sooner had a one-day and Test series against New Zealand been completed than the players were packed onto a plane and sent to a distant continent full of hostile creatures, some of them able to aim cricket balls at their bodies with the venom associated with especially grumpy snakes. A couple of nets, a few days to get over jet lag and let the battle commence — it hardly seems sensible, or fair.
In the old days, touring teams gave themselves weeks to adjust to local conditions. Different balls are used and the light can vary — it's exceptionally bright in Australia (which in some opinions cannot be said of the inhabitants).
Even in these homogenous days of Coca-Cola and jeans, pitches vary a heck of a lot around the world. Some keep low and take their time in the manner of an aged tortoise. Others hop around like kangaroos after a third cordial. All sorts of skills are required to combat these variations.
Batsmen need to take these things into account as they tinker with their techniques. After all it's no use wearing a fur coat in a hot country. Admittedly the Indian batsmen are experienced but they are also human and it is hard to change overnight.
The Kiwi bowlers and local tracks were mild compared to the stuff likely to be served up in Africa. Virender Sehwag and chums are going straight from khorma to vindaloo !
Bowlers need to adjust their lengths and strategies. Of course these things are talked about by the vast army of advisors that nowadays accompany cricket teams. But flingers also need to attune themselves and that takes time.
Even the texture of the grass changes from country to country and that affects run-ups. By the way it is only upon taking up their activity that realisation dawns that the bowlers are not, as had been long supposed, a bunch of Prima Donnas.
Reducing their chances
By arriving a few days before the start of the campaign the Indians have reduced their chances of toppling their hosts. They are not playing a bunch of ne'er do wells but the second-ranked side in the world, and a team eager for an execution. Moreover the sides are competing for the title recently vacated by an Australia line-up that had ruled for 15 years and is now suffering a partial eclipse
India made the same mistake on its last trip Down Under. They arrived in Melbourne, played a rain-affected three-day match against a motley collection of Victorians and then took on the Aussies in the Boxing Day Test. Inevitably they flopped and a week later the series was lost in contentious circumstances in Sydney. Thereafter India confirmed that it was the stronger side by winning in Perth and taking the one-day cup. But the damage had been done.
Contrastingly England left no stone unturned as it planned its current Ashes campaign. They turned up several weeks before the first Test, played three rugged warm-up matches and went to Brisbane on top of their games.
Meanwhile Ricky Ponting's mob was running around like headless chickens. The rest was well nigh inevitable. A talented team might overcome poor preparation for a while but eventually the shallowness is exposed.
Admittedly some of the Indian batsmen went to Africa before the main party but they did not play any relevant matches. Professionalism means turning up every day determined to give it everything. But it is impossible to perform to the highest standards without proper preparation. In that regard India remains amateurish.