Ashis Ray says Indian cricketers mustn’t lose heart over their failures in the test against England
After two terribly disappointing cricket Test matches — especially the last one that ended at Old Trafford, Manchester on Saturday, a 1-2 deficit in the series and only one more encounter yet to come, India have no alternative other than to pull out all stops in pursuit of squaring the series against England.
It is, of course, easier said than done, but coach Duncan Fletcher has got to re-motivate his wards to make a final, face-saving effort. An overwhelming majority in the current Indian squad arrived in England this summer sans the scars of the 2011 whitewash. But after the reverse at Southampton and now the drubbing at Old Trafford, they are wounded as well.
Yet, all is not lost. The present lot of Englishmen are not world beaters. If India get their act together in batting, including finding an answer to James Anderson (who may not be as incisive at The Oval as at Old Trafford and could also be tiring), turning the tables is not impossible.
The Indians must, though, erase the memory of the last two tests, think of it as a bad dream and focus on what they did right in the second Test, which they won.
Coach Fletcher’s primary task is to concentrate on his batsmen. Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have demonstrated they have the potential to prosper. They left the ball outside their off-stump in a most efficient manner at Lord’s. This they need to replicate.
Virat Kohli’s inability to adopt a side-on approach to Anderson, with his left toe pointing towards extra cover and not mid-off when negotiating outswing off the front foot, has been his undoing; but his record in Australia and South Africa (where, admittedly, the ball doesn’t swing as much as in England and cricket is played with balls with less pronounced seams) and in New Zealand indicates he possesses class, which is permanent even if form is temporary.
Since India have given Shikhar Dhawan a fair trot and now opted for Gautam Gambhir, who was, it has to be said, thrown into the deep end in the challenging conditions of Old Trafford in the Indian first innings after a month without any match practice, they may as well persevere with him in the hope that he will shine as he once did in New Zealand.
At The Oval, London, England’s oldest Test ground, wickets in August have historically been good for batting, except for a little life for quicker bowlers on the first morning and for spinners on the last one-and-half days. And as of now, there is no forecast of rain during the match, other than on the fourth day.
In such circumstances, India must gamble in order to try and level the contest. If they replace Ravindra Jadeja with a faster bowler – Ishant Sharma automatically, if he is physically fit – they would be well equipped for a wicket with a bit of grass and moisture, which the curator under guidance from the England and Wales Cricket Board could be persuaded to retain.
Should the tourists feel uneasy about the fragility of the batting, then Stuart Binny can be recalled in place of Pankaj Singh, who while relatively luckless in his two appearances, has also been inconsistent in his line and length and patently cannot bat to save his life!
Mohammed Shami, if he can ratchet up his old pace, would have more wicket-taking prospect than Binny, but is obviously a lesser batsman.
So, all are available, here is a recommendation from one who has covered cricket in England every summer since 1977: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain and wicket-keeper), Murali Vijay, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Stuart Binny or Mohammed Shami, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Varun Aaron and Ishant Sharma.