India hope for Oval twist

India hope for Oval twist

Dhoni's men in a must-win situation as the fifth and final Test begins today

India hope for Oval twist

“Fear those who have nothing to lose.” James A Baldwin had the rage of the oppressed American blacks in his mind when he wrote that immortal line in ‘The Fire Next Time.’

Yes, the Indian cricketers have not gone through such intense class turmoil, but on this tour they have been repeatedly rendered inferior by the English bowlers. They scaled a small peak at Lord’s, scoring a 95-run win but since then England have been all over them.

At Southampton, England hammered them by 266 runs. At Manchester, England just blew them away, scoring an innings and 54-run win inside three days. In the run-up to the fifth and final Test at the Oval, starting on the Independence Day, Indian cricketers have been attempting to forget those sound thrashings.

Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni had visited a nearby shooting range, while some players stayed back in Old Trafford for a game of Manchester United against Valencia, some others went for a stroll at Chelsea football club. Those might have been good tactics to take the pressure off the mind.

But time has come now to channel their anger and disappointment on the field, rise from the depths and level the series that they now trail 1-2.

Bowlers have largely held their own on this tour, often-troubling the English batsmen. But batsmen’s case has been different. They came here with a good reputation of being an improving group despite losing series in South Africa and New Zealand.

However, the English bowlers have battered their egos and reputation quite mercilessly, especially in the third and fourth Tests. M Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane and Dhoni have offered sparkling moments but Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli, the engine room of this batting line-up, have floundered.

Pujara has just one fifty in eight innings and Kohli has none, revealing the enormity of their struggles. They perforce have to get some runs here to lift the Indian spirit that has taken quite a beating in the last two matches. To top it, the Indian openers have not been able to provide consistent starts. At one end, Vijay has been solid and made runs but both Shikhar Dhawan and Gautam Gambhir have squandered the chances.

Less said the better about their fielding. Lethargy has spread in a group that consists some sharp youngsters and their slip fielding has been shoddy, to the say the least. Ravindra Jadeja spilling Alastair Cook at slip on the first day at the Ageas Bowl would go down as one of the momentum-turning moments of this series.

Amidst all the worries, the Indians will also have to look at their team combination. They are at the fag end of the Test series but yet have not cracked the code. In the first two Tests, they went with five bowlers and Stuart Binny, though vastly under utilized, was the fifth bowler. But in the third match, they reverted to the trusted four-bowler strategy bringing in Rohit Sharma for Binny. In the fourth Test they swapped Rohit for R Ashwin, returning to the five-bowler theory, and the blend for this match is up for speculation.

But the talk here is rife that Binny could appear in his third match of the series, most likely in the place of Jadeja, whose performance with bat and ball has gone down a notch below. His only moment under the sun so far has been a belligerent fifty at Lord’s that took the game away from England. The Karnataka man had spent an extensive session at nets on Wednesday both with bat and ball.

India can also lean on to a piece of history. They had scripted an epochal triumph in 1971 here under Ajit Wadekar. Freakish leg-spinner BS Chandrasekhar used Mil Reef – his quick ball – to take six wickets in England’s second innings, setting up India’s four-wicket victory. Since then they have not won here, and it’s as good a time as any to buck the trend.

However, change of personnel and sepia-toned fragments of history alone can’t help India. They need to transform themselves and let fearlessness course through them.