India look to salvage reputation

Home batsmen need to fire to stop England from running away with the series

India look to salvage reputation

The most popular story line prior to India’s series against England read thus: pitches offering sharp turn, bagful of wickets for Indian spinners, and desperation-filled faces of Englishmen.

The first Test at Ahmedabad seemed to have justified that script, but the Englishmen have turned it around, winning in Mumbai and Kolkata.

Now, the popular story line goes thus: put that cold muzzle on the temples of each member of the Indian team -- Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar in particular – for they are the ones on the floor, primary culprits in India’s failure to live up to our expectations. Yes, they have been sub-par in this series – there’s no denying that fact – but, perhaps, we have forgotten that sports seldom follows pre-written scripts, and more significantly, India still has a chance to level the series.

Englishmen are on a roll with two wins in as many Tests, and they have shown how to bounce back from defeat after the first Test at Ahmedabad. Now, it is up to India to show a similar ability, show the same gumption as their England counterparts to rise from the dumps in the fourth Test at Nagpur, beginning here at the VCA Stadium on Thursday.

Indians, however, need to do a lot of soul-searching before they enter the field on the morrow. First, they should admit that their batting has been a massive collective failure save for one innings at Motera. There were patches in which they batted well, but it remains a fact that Indians thus far have managed to stitch together just three 100-plus stands in the series. Two of them came at Motera – 134 between Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, 130 between Cheteshwer Pujara and Yuvraj Singh — while the third century stand, 111, was made between Pujara and R Ashwin at Mumbai after England had imposed their dominance.

Those are sparse figures for a team trying to move ahead of a top quality side like England, who in contrast have registered five 100-plus partnerships with three exceeding 150. The constant factor in those alliances was their skipper Alastair Cook, who was involved in four of those big partnerships.

India have lacked a batsman in the stature of Cook in this series, a batsman who stands head and shoulders above the rest. Pujara has made two hundreds but he lacked support and it’s naïve to put the Saurashtra man in the same league as Cook, a veteran of 86 Tests at 27. England had contribution from various sources like Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Nick Compton and Jonathan Trott in this series, something India failed to emulate. The only time Pujara got support from other end was at Motera when Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh assisted him over two hundred-stands. But since then Sehwag has tapered off, Virat Kohli and skipper Dhoni haven’t crossed fifty in six innings, while Tendulkar’s highest remains 76 and Gambhir seems to be still shackled by self-doubts despite laboring his way to two back-to-back fifties. So, the first spark of India’s rejuvenation has to come from batsmen and for them to sparkle, they need to negate the impact of England bowlers, notably Monty Panesar, who has been outstanding in this series.

A strong effort from the batsmen will also boost the confidence of the bowlers. It’s not that they have bowled below-par throughout, as there were pockets even in Kolkata and Mumbai when they appeared to have tilted the momentum in home side’s favour. But they didn’t have enough runs on the board to take advantage of it, eventually losing grip on the plot.

Now, they don’t have the experience of Zaheer Khan, who was dropped after the defeat at the Eden Gardens fiasco, to bank upon, and that puts a lot of pressure on a young bowling line-up. It’s a possibility that India may once again fall back upon the three-spinners policy – Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and leggie Piyush Chawla, with Ishant Sharma being the lone pacer on a pitch that promises some assistance for tweakers as the match progresses. Indeed, it’s a chance for them and the team to show that they can tide over the adversities.

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