It's Mission Salvage Pride

Indians gird loins as they set out to beard roaring English lion

It's Mission Salvage Pride

After an embarrassing defeat against second division County side Northamptonshire on Saturday, the visitors hit the Edgbaston ground, the venue for the third Test, for a three-hour practice session on Monday.

The customary football session at the main ground, where players appeared to be in high spirits, was followed by a net session at the adjacent facility.

The slow nature of the practice surfaces had batsmen struggling to time the ball, especially skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni against Ishant Sharma. But the intensity of the Indian cricketers was obvious, an element that was sadly missing in the two-day practice game against Northants. Barring Abhinav Mukund and VVS Laxman, none of the top batsmen had shown any inkling to spend much-needed time in the middle.

Of course, not much can be read into performances in practice games where it’s hard to maintain the same level of focus as in Tests, but it wouldn’t have harmed their cause if the likes of Suresh Raina and Dhoni had got some batting time. The returning Virender Sehwag was obviously rusty while Gautam Gambhir did fight it out for close to an hour and a half.

Their attack – without two of their best bowlers on this tour – was flayed by the Northants openers before Munaf Patel and S Sreesanth found some spark but couldn’t save India from indignation. How the visitors will lift themselves after a series of losses remains to be seen at a place where defeats seem to form their template.

Since 1967, when the Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi-led team first played here, India have played five Tests here, losing on four occasions. Only in 1986 did they manage to pull off a draw when Kapil Dev led the team. A lot has changed at one of England’s traditional Test venues since India’s last defeat here in 1996, but a shift in India’s fortunes appears bleak at the moment.

Warwickshire officials have spent lavishly on renovation which, according to old-timers, is a complete make-over from what the stadium used to be. A whopping 30 million pounds has been splurged in enhancing the capacity, relaying the outfield, upgrading the drainage system and constructing new stands. It has taken 6 million pounds to improve the drainage facility alone!

The pitch here, though, remains as unpredictable as ever. England batsman Ravi Bopara, the replacement for the injured Jonathan Trott, said he had no idea about the square here while New Zealand’s Jeetan Patel, a Warwickshire pro, said surfaces at Edgbaston have generally been slow.

The off-spinner, however, felt the Test wicket may play differently as the groundsmen have been working on it for a long time. The ground also earned a dubious honour when it was docked eight points for providing a ‘poor’ quality pitch, which had excessive uneven bounce, against visiting side Worcestershire.

Former England batsman Vikram Solanki and wicket-keeper Ben Scott were injured when they visited Edgbaston in May this season. While Solanki was hurt when he ducked into what he thought was a bouncer, only to be hit on the back of his ear by paceman Boyd Rankin, Scott was struck on his fingers.

Recent history suggests that the pitch has assisted both pacemen and spinners in equal measure.

While fast bowlers have been effective on the first two days, spinners have had their say in the latter stages of the game. In August last year, off-spinner Graeme Swann ran through Pakistan’s batting in the second innings with a six-for to set up England’s nine-wicket win.
Ominous signs then.

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