18 August 2011
India scored over 500 runs in the first-innings at the Oval in their last two Tests here. Anil Kumble scored a Test hundred last time around! This time, however, Indian batting, has been a collective failure. In four Tests in 2007, not one top-order batsman got to a hundred though all but Dravid got close to it on multiple occasions. They were strong as a unit. This time, barring Dravid, hardly any one else seems capable of wielding the willow.
Still, it is hard to give up on this batting side. It is a far cry from the last time India were subjected to losing three Tests in a row – in Australia back in 1999-00. That was a team never expected to win and here is a team, which after three successive defeats, each progressively bigger than the previous one, there is still hope of a turn around. Only just.
The break between the second Test and the third was expected to give them time to clear their thoughts as individuals and as a unit. Instead, they were handed a mauling by an impressive England unit with no apparent chinks. As the prospect of a whitewash looms large, India, with its perceivably wafer-thin bowling attack and a batting side equally thin on confidence, will need a remarkable turn around to stop England.
They are a team of impressive individuals made of the right stuff. Things that have defined them over the last decade – resilience, doggedness, scrap – have gone missing. Big runs have eluded their batsmen. In fact, they have been deprived of any runs at all. It has left the players and the fans stumped.
English bowlers have shown enormous precision in carrying out their plans. Their quick-bowling reserves seem to run deeper than the mental scars they have inflicted on Indian batsmen. Their lengths have been fuller, none more so than Broad, and they have managed to move the ball late both ways to make life suffocating for the Indians.
It is in this cauldron of relentless pressure that India’s batsmen have been found wanting. Rahul Dravid has been the lone exception. He has shown exceptional skill in handling the conditions and bowling. Tendulkar and Laxman have not been allowed to get away. The younger batsmen have been found out and must be wondering if they are good enough at this level.
It will take enormous discipline, grit and patience to wear such a potent bowling side. You would have expected this Indian batting side to do just that for they are good at it. For starters, they would, for a change want the openers to grind and battle conditions. Sehwag has had his success overseas giving this first session to the bowlers. He can make for lost time better than most. Gambhir needs a score. That both are coming back from injuries hasn’t helped India’s cause.
Tendulkar’s last average series came against a rampant Ajanta Mendis in Sri Lanka back in 2008. He looked unsure there like he has often done here. When he has been positive, like in the first innings at Lord’s, second innings at Trent Bridge and Edgbaston, he has hardly looked troubled. India will hope for a big innings from him and from another pillar of strength, Laxman, as it looks to pick up the pieces and put them back together.
Expect Kohli, R.P. Singh and Pragyan Ojha to be given a look in. Ojha is a tidy bowler with potential. He should exploit any spin and bounce available and R.P. Singh is a steady swing bowler who might trouble the English openers. India will sweat on the fitness of Praveen Kumar and will hope that he is available. Ishant has blown hot and cold. May be, the bounce at the Oval will be to his liking.
India needs big runs from the batsmen for its bowlers to pose a challenge to a rampant English top-order. It will be interesting to see their approach to this Test. One would think that holds the key to their success.