A powdery pitch awaits India and England as action shifts to Nagpur
Mahendra Singh Dhoni inspected the pitch close to 20 minutes at the VCA stadium on Tuesday, and walked back sporting a smile.
It was, perhaps, because he saw a pitch where India has a chance to win or may be it was because the 22-yard strip was hiding a truckload of runs, robbing the possibility of a result.
The surface here for sure will have a say in whether India will be able to protect their proud record as their last series defeat at home came in the 2004 against Australia. But now, England has put that record in serious jeopardy, and Dhoni would be well aware of the ramifications of losing this series to the visitors.
But there’s one man who can help India emerge unscathed – Virender Sehwag.
Admittedly, the recent numbers is not in Sehwag’s favour -- 865 runs from 14 Tests at a modest 33.26 since making his return to the Test fold at Trent Bridge in 2011 with just one hundred against the same opposition at Ahmedabad last month.
The statistics indeed shows the reduced effect of the Delhiite but it also emphatically tells us Sehwag’s significance at the pole position. A question in that regard – to other players and Sehwag himself – will produce that standard reply – “Cricket is a team game. There are 11 players in the team, and all of them need to contribute.”
That’s true. But even then it remains an undeniable fact that a Sehwag innings at the top can put the opposition under immense pressure, and providing oodles of confidence to batsmen coming down the order.
Three instances from the on-going series against England will reveal that. In the first innings at Motera, Sehwag was in sublime touch, stroking his way to a hundred after a long gap. India went on to pile 521 for eight, and win the Test. Yes, there were a double hundred by Cheteshwer Pujara in that innings, but it was Sehwag’s brutal hundred that pushed the Englishmen into a state of hopelessness, and a cold and clinical Pujara ground them down with ease.
Now, the scene shifts to the Eden Gardens – a venue known as India’s fortress. The home team’s record seemed to stay intact once Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir added 47 in just 10 overs. Swing, spin, bounce – there was nothing. But the game drifted into a totally different direction once Sehwag was run out after a mix-up with Gambhir.
India were all out for 316. It wasn’t a bad score, but certainly wasn’t enough to test the in-form English batsmen. Even after England amassed a 207-run innings lead, India had a chance to fight back with two days remaining in the game. Eden appeared to work its magic as Sehwag and Gambhir raced to 86 in a little over 20 overs, and the English bowlers looked a bit weary.
Sehwag was at the forefront of that mini revival – carving seven boundaries. But the first ball after the lunch on the fourth day changed it all. Graeme Swann bowled Sehwag, and India lost six wickets for 36 in the middle session and with it the match as well. It was as if the Sehwag dismissal – more precisely a big spinning off-break by Swann – invoked the demons in Indians’ mind. They were gripped by uncertainty and fear.
It won’t be any different in Nagpur. The knowledgeable locals predict a powdery pitch -- something Dhoni – by turn the Indians -- has always wished for but failed to exploit when one came on their way in Mumbai. A pitch that offers turn is India’s best chance to secure a win despite the Mumbai debacle, and without Zaheer Khan India will be dependent on their spin battery throughout the match.
But runs need to be on board for them to be effective even on such a pitch, and it all should start from Sehwag -- mandatorily.
Do you still want to say Sehwag has no role in this Indian line-up? Stack up all the possible numbers, but the Sehwag effect is beyond the numbers.