Can India avoid whitewash?

Can India avoid whitewash?

Down 0-3 in the series, Dhonis men eager to salvage pride in fourth Test

Can India avoid whitewash?

For the first time in almost 18 months since they were crowned the number one Test side, India go into a match as the second best side. If the Indians manage not to lose this one, they will stay number two or else South Africa will take that spot.

In conditions where India’s batsmen have found the going extremely tough against a three-pronged pace attack, The Oval, the venue for the fourth and final Test beginning Thursday, offers them the last chance to come good. And if Indian willow-wielders are looking for an inspiration, they need not look beyond the score board of the last match they played here in 2007.

A certain Anil Kumble, batting at number eight, struck his only Test hundred as India amassed a whopping 664 that helped them push England to the brink of second defeat in the series. Incidentally, Kumble was the only Indian batsman in that series to score a century which highlighted the fact that the batsmen had put in concerted efforts to post good enough totals on board the previous time they travelled here. Dravid alone has scored two tons so far in the current series, but still a total of 300 in an innings has eluded the visitors.

Zaheer Khan’s injury did take the sting out of Indian attack but if Dhoni’s men were to pass the English test, their batsmen needed to deliver, more so in the absence of their premier bowler. Blame it on lack of preparation or fatigue or in some cases absence of requisite skill to handle the moving or bouncing ball hurled consistently at over 140 kmph, majority of the Indian batsmen haven’t come to the party on this tour.

The leader of the English pack, James Anderson, suffering from quadriceps injury, remains a doubt though the paceman did have a bowl on Wednesday morning and looked none the worse for the time spent in the ‘nets’. Even if Anderson misses out, there seems to be no respite for India. Steven Finn, the possible replacement, may prove quite hard to overcome.

There is no clear picture about Praveen Kumar, who was hit on his bowling thumb while batting during the third Test at Edgbaston, and India will be hoping their best bowler, who had a bowl at nets on the day,  on tour will recover in time for the match. After impressive shows in the first innings at Lord’s and Trent Bridge, Ishant Sharma has struggled for consistency.

The 22-year-old has rattled the home batsmen with his pace and bounce on occasion, but the wickets have been hard to come by. S Sreesanth has fizzled out after his inspiring bowling in the first innings at Trent Bridge compounding India’s bowling problems. Much as he may claim he is a different bowler now, the Kerala paceman has often fallen prey to his old failing -- trying too many things. The energy Sreesanth shows could be infectious only if he manages to channel it in a proper manner. The spin department, consisting of leggie Amit Mishra and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, isn’t inspiring either, especially under these conditions. Given their batting woes and limited resources in bowling, and not to forget the general sluggishness on the field, it is hard to imagine that India would turn things around in a match where they have nothing more than pride to play for.

Since India attained their Test status, they have been clean swept on six occasions, including thrice in a series of four or more Tests. England have whitewashed India more than any other side (three times), the last one coming way back in 1974 in their own den. How India avoid a fourth such humiliation remains to be seen.

Teams (from): England: Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior (wk), Ravi Bopara, Eoin Morgan, Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Graham Onions.

India: MS Dhoni (capt), Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Suresh Raina, Amit Mishra, Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma, S Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Abhinav Mukund, Virat Kohli, Wriddhiman Saha, RP Singh.

Umpires: Simon Taufel and Rod Tucker (both Australia); Third umpire: Steve Davis (Australia); Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka).