Tag Archives: VVS Laxman

England Vs India: Test 3 Day 1 — India attempt to step up…

Dileep Premachandran asked yesterday in a well-written Cricinfo article if India would be able to step up and cross that last hurdle in the 3rd Test against England at The Oval. It was a question that was posed yesterday on this blogsite too. So often — most excruciatingly in Steve Waugh’s final Test — India have not managed to cross this last hurdle.

But India did the right things right on Day-1 of Test 3. India won the toss, elected to bat and came out in a sensationally positive frame of mind. If this mindset was evident in the mercurial nature of of Wasim Jaffer’s batting, it was palpable in the purposefulness of Rahul Dravid’s stride. This team meant business and they would have reached a much more satisfying destination at the end of Day-1 but for the fact that a certain Ian Howell appeared to have got up on the wrong side of his bed! After giving a marginal caught behind decision to send Dinesh Karthik back to the hut, he chopped Sourav Ganguly at the knees with a shocker of a decision! India ended the day at 316 for 4. India had had a good day, but England are still in the game.

Karthik was playing extremely well and had composed his 91 runs in style; with confidence and energy. On that score he wafted with minimal footwork at a ball from Sidebottom for Matt Prior to pounce on the catch. The England players went up as though they had just won the lottery or a date with Catherine Zeta-Jones, or both! Ian Howell, the umpire, lifted the dreaded finger and Karthik had to make the slow long walk back. I did not hear the snick. Snickometer did not think there was a snick either. However, Karthik did say at the end of days’ play, “there was a small nick, there is no doubt about that“! Phew! One less effigy to construct and then destruct for the folks in Kolkata! The Ganguly decision, however, will have generated a few thousand effigy orders!

Up until that lapse in concentration, Karthik had batted very well. He was all poise, determination, inventiveness and concentration. A step down to caress Andreson through extra cover as well as an inside-out six off Panesar were special shots.

In the morning, after Rahul Dravid had won an important toss and elected to bat, proceedings ran against the normal script. Karthik, the normal aggressor was quiet while Wasim Jaffer, the dour accumulator was in his elements! It was a very different Wasim Jaffer that came to the crease this morning. Indeed, it appeared as though Jaffer and Karthik had reversed roles! We saw a quiet Karthik and a different player to the Jaffer, who normally plays well within himself. Instead, he was playing out of his skin! There were some great leaves by both Jaffer and Karthik initially. Of course, the bowling was shocking to start with. Karthik and Jaffer were served some dross by James Andreson, who gave both the openers ‘ample opportunity to have a look at the ball and what it was doing’. Both Anderson and Tremlett had poor opening spells and they did not make batsmen play enough. Although Sidebottom bowled tightly, he slid too many across face of the batsmen. The openers settled down and slowly opened their shoulders.

I liked the way the openers saw off the new ball. A shot by Jaffer to send an Anderson ball for 6 over third man was so Sehwag that one wondered if Sehwag himself would have been able to execute that shot any better!

The only way Jaffer was going to get out was through a brain explosion. And it did happen. He played a shot that would have done Sehwag proud! It was a strong statement from Jaffer, but I’d think he needs to work on his square-off-the-side strokes to do well in Australia.

India went in to lunch at 117-1 off 28. It was an innings that was paced well. India were well-placed with Karthik on 50, Dravid on 25 with Dravid looking very very determined.

Dravid’s stride to the crease was purposeful. He opened with two fours and looked extremely focussed, determined and positive. If he had a message to convey to the team, he did so with panache. In the days leading to this Test match, he had already telegraphed his positive intentions. He had said that the previous two Test matches were-result oriented even though they only featured 350 overs. He said that with 450 overs expected to be bowled at The Oval, he expected a result. This was positive and tone-setting stuff from the captain.

The hour after lunch saw some awesome batting; perhaps even the best batting-phase of the series from either teams. Dravid and Karthik were scoring at will. They took nearly 70 runs in 17 overs. In this passage of play it was interesting to note that England maintained a very good over rate too. One particular shot by Dravid was really special. Panesar had two men in front of Dravid — one at short extra cover and one at short mid off. The two fielders were really close to each other — within hand-shaking distance. A flighted ball from Panesar invited the cover drive. Dravid leaned into a classic cover drive and threaded the ball through these two fielders with unforgettable panache and sheer style.

He really did look set for a 100 or even higher! After all, the last time he played at The Oval, he had scored over 200 runs! And then suddenly the ball started moving around quite a bit. Although Dravid was bowled by Anderson off a beauty — and normally, it is a beauty that gets Dravid out — it was really the previous over from Sidebottom that probably set up the dismissal. It was a fantastic and searching over; an over in which Sidebottom swung the ball away and asked a few questions. Dravid had played and missed a few times in that over and was clearly annoyed with himself. The first ball of the next over was a terrific yorker length ball that moved slightly away. Dravid lost his middle stump!

Although the ball was a good one, but for the previous over, Dravid may have, on most occasions, presented a straight bat to the ball. Instead, he closed the face and tried a cute flick to leg, perhaps in an effort to score a few off Anderson to compensate for the tightness of Sidebottom’s line, movement and length that did not afford any “gimme” balls.

Soon after Karthik was out too. How Howell could have given that out, I really do not know. There was no sound of a nick. Nor was there any deviation. The benefit of doubt should have gone the batsman’s way. It did not.

All of this happened during a phase in play when it was a wee-bit gloomy and there was some swing around. Andreson was in the middle of a good spell of fast swing bowling. The 50-over old ball was suddenly seaming around. Was it the overcast conditions? Or was there some jelly beans involved too?

Ganguly and Tendulkar set about the reconstruction job. Once again, Tendulkar appeared shaky while Ganguly was playing reasonably well, albeit with some initial scares. I thought England bowled badly to Tendulkar. They overdid the “chin music” stuff to Tendulkar when fully pitched outswingers that invited the drive may have been a better option. Matt Prior, who was asked to “put a sock in it” had a forgettable day. He let through some 20 byes and dropped Tendulkar off Sidebottom! A costly lapse perhaps?

But both teams are still in the game. I’d say that India won 2 sessions (session-1 and session-3) with the middle session being called an even one.

The new ball is only 8 overs old. So, Laxman and Tendulkar will need to see off the first 10-15 overs and then start to play their shots. The stage is set for a crucial 1st session on day-2. If one of Tendulkar, Laxman or Dhoni make a big hundred, they can put the match beyond Englands’ reach. But if England manage to get 1 or 2 quick wickets, they are right back in the game. All of this makes for a fascinating day-2.

— Mohan

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Team India on the cusp of a crucial milestone…

“Since 2000, India have won 16 Test matches away and 14 at home. They have won Test matches in every Test playing country bar New Zealand. India has won more away-Tests than England (14), South Africa (13), Pakistan (13) and Sri Lanka (10) in the same period. Australia leads the pack with 26 away-wins”. — Dileep Premachandran

The 3rd and final nPower Test between England and India commences at The Oval today.

This Test assumes special relevance for India. One simple fact that makes this Test very different from any other Tests is that India have, to the best of my knowledge, never gone into the last Test of a series with a series lead. Ravi Shastri says, “This is probably the most important Test for India in the past five-six years because they’ve never been in a position to win the series with one Test to go”.

India is in a position to win an away-series — and these do not come often.

There are several other factors that combine to add much spice to The Oval Test match. Some of them are:

  • India will want a win or a draw in The Oval Test match to clinch an away-series-win to add to the away-series-win the team scored in the West Indies in 2006.
  • England will be desperate to win to ensure that their home-turf record stays; England have not lost a home-series since 2001.
  • Michael Vaughan, the England captain has not lost a home series as captain of England.
  • More often than not, India have lost a Test match immediately after winning a match — especially in an away-series. India will be desperate to lose the team-that-takes-its-foot-off-the-pedal tag while, at the same time, scoring an important away-series-win.
  • Michaeal Vaughan, on the other hand, has always captained his team to wins immediately after losing a Test match. This is indeed an impressive record; one that he is quite proud of. Vaughan will not want to lose his home-series win-record or the win-immediately-after-a-loss record.
  • Barring some miracle, it is almost certain that this will be the last Test match that the Famous Five — a bit tired of the Fab Four tag! — will be playing in England. Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman and Anil Kumble will want to sign off from England on a victorious note.

If we look back to the best duration for Indian cricket in recent memory, two periods perhaps jump out more than any other.

The first is the period from 1983 to 1986 where India seemed to have developed the ability to win One Day games. This was the period when India won the World Cup and followed it with the World Championship in Victoria, Australia.

The second period, in my view, commenced in 2001. Although the first year or so of this period was a bit stop-start, it is important to anchor this period in Kolkata and then travel through to the point I wish to make.

  • It was in Kolkata on 11 March 2001 — the second Test between India and Australia in that brilliant 2001 series that the period was conceived, in my view. Although India’s Fab Four were around for a while before then, it was perhaps only in that Test match that Team India fans started having visions of backs-to-the-wall victories. The team seemed to have developed confidence in itself, fed by a mix of ability, skill, class and swagger.
  • Much was expected after that incredible series win against Australia. India seemed to have found bowlers in Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan to back Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath. The Fab Four were firing. So, post-conception optimism was high. However, in a period of morning-sickness, India stuttered through to Zimbabwe, where India won an away-Test and lost the next Test match immediately; a pattern that has continued to haunt its travels since then!
  • India then travelled to Sri Lanka, where the team struggled without Tendulkar and Laxman and coped with Kaif and Badani instead! Once again, an away win was secured in the 2nd Test. However, the trend of losing a match immediately after winning one continued as India lost by an embarassing margin in the last Test of the series. However, these away wins were accumulating. Perhaps India was coping with the pregnancy after all!
  • A rude and forgettable series to South Africa followed this, dominated somewhat by the antics of Mike Denness.
  • A somewhat listless series followed between India and England in India in which Ashley Giles’s negative bowling to Sachin Tendulkar possibly exposed the great batsman’s weakness to left-arm-over defensive bowling. India won this series.
  • India then travelled to West Indies in early-2002. Although India lost this series 1-2, this series too saw India score an away win followed immediately by a crushing loss. The enduring image from this series would be the one of Anil Kumble bowling with jaw strapped to face in a losing cause.
  • After the trials and tribulations of conception and gestation, in my view, the baby was finally born in Headingley when India toured England in the summer of 2002. This Test match will be one of India’s most famous victories, after the Kolkata Test. It launched what was possibly the best time for Indian cricket in recent memory. The period was brief, but it did exist! And for once, an away win wasn’t followed by an immediate loss! But the Headingly win was a watershed; an important landmark in Indian cricket. Headingly was to an away-win-buff what Kolkata was to a home-bully-buff! This series also included the NatWest Trophy that India won.
  • A forgettable away series to NewZealand was followed by the 2003 World Cup in which India reached the finals.
  • India then travelled to Australia in November 2003 for Steve Waugh’s final matches as Australia captain and player. Just as Headingly was an important win, the draw that India secured in Brisbane and the win in Adelaide marked important milestones. But once again, a thrilling win was followed up by a sorry loss; India lost the next Test in Melbourne! But, the baby had almost grown up by now!
  • If evidence of the growth were needed, India produced that in Pakistan in 2003, where thanks to the Sultan of Multan (Sehwag’s 309) and Dravid’s efforts at Rawalpindi (a majestic 270), India clinched an away series win! But yet again, India had lost (at Lahore) immediately after winning (at Multan).

And that is where I stop this recollection. India did then score wins against Pakistan in India (followed by a loss!) and India did also score a famous away-series-win in the West Indies that included a Dravid-inspired win at Sabina Park. However, it would be fair to say that, despite an away-Test win in South Africa (followed, predictably by a loss!) the child that was conceived in Kolkata had gone a bit wayward. With the departure of John Wright, who incidentally had oversight of the above era, it seemed that the Indian fans’ visions of consistent wins overseas were fading.

Team India has an opportunity to resurrect over the 5 days of the 3rd and final nPower Test match against England. India should go into the match in a buoyant mood. This is possibly the last hurrah for the Famous Five. The team will want to do well for these five warriors. The pressure is on England who will not want to lose their proud home-win record.

India has rarely converted thrilling away Test wins to away series wins. In a thorough article Dileep Premachandran analysed India’s away-performance and clinically demolished the “home-bully-away-silly” tag that Indian teams have been stuck with. Since then, even Tony Greig and Ian Chappell have started saying how good India are are travellers these days! Just goes to show how serious journalism can erode myths and create new cliches almost at will!

India’s batsmen will want to sign off positively from England. Zaheer Khan will want to show that he has added “consistency” to his quiver. The Indian openers will want to continue their good showing thus far on the tour. Sree Santh will want to put the nightmare of Trent Bridge behind him. It is even likely that, while England have been concentrating on tackling the prodigious swing of Zaheer Khan and R. P. Singh, Sree Santh could sneak under the radar to wreak some havoc.

But it is Kumble that holds the key for India, I believe. By his own high standards, Kumble has had a poor series. The conditions at The Oval are tailore made for him. It has bounce and carry early on and spin as the match progresses. Will he be able to recreate the magic that the great B. S. Chandrashekar created at The Oval? While Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly stay on for the ODIs, Kumble will bid adieu to English Test grounds after this match. The stage is set perfectly.

While a draw would do for India to clinch a historic away-series-win in England, India should play positively and look to win this one. If India wins, we may be able to claim that the kid that was somewhat lost, has been found again! This Test marks an important milestone especially since some of the more senior cricketers will be entering into their baton-passing stage in the near future.

— Mohan

Indian Team for the Oval Test

Team India have a nine-day gap between the end of the 2nd Test match and the start of the 3rd and final Test at The Oval. The 3rd Test commences 9 August.

In between, from the 3rd to the 5th of August, India plays Sri Lanka ‘A’ at Leicester! This is a bit wierd! I am not aware of a touring team playing another touring team — and that too an ‘A’ team — in a 3-day practice match! Could well be a first?

India have a few questions to answer, notably:
– Whether Sree Santh plays at The Oval, and if he does, what his mental state is.
– Whether Yuvraj plays at The Oval.

Sri Lanka ‘A’ have some decent players in its ranks. Its one-down player, Michael Vandort, has already played 9 Tests for Sri Lanka (including those against Bangladesh recently) for an impressive average of 52.91 including 3 centuries. Thilan Samaraveera, the ‘A’ Team captain, has played 39 Tests for an average of 41.53. He has also snared 14 Test wickets with his off-spin bowling. Kaushal Lokuarachchi is said to be a useful all-rounder. He bowls legspin, bats well and has played in 4 Tests and 19 ODIs. Dammika Prasad and Akalanka Ganegama are useful fast-medium bowlers who are rated quite highly. They have both played a handful of ODIs. They will be able to offer a good practice for the Indians ahead of The Oval.

I believe India needs to play the following in their XI for this game (in batting order):

Wasim Jaffer
Dinesh Karthik
Gautam Gambhir
Yuvraj Singh
VVS Laxman
Rahul Dravid (c)
MS Dhoni (wk)
Ramesh Powar
Ranadeb Bose
S Sreesanth
Ishant Sharma

Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, R. P. Singh and Sachin Tendulkar should earn a break and get some R&R.

Despite the win in I do believe India needs to sort out the Yuvraj Singh question. I do feel that the process of future-building needs to commence now — and not in the future. The Fab Four will not be around for ever. Yuvraj Singh needs to be blooded and the time is now.

Despite Laxman’s fighting 50 in the 2nd Test and despite Dhoni’s match-saving innings at The Lords’ I believe one of them need to make way for Yuvraj Singh for The Oval game. Apart from being an opportunity to play a future middle-order bat for India, Yuvraj Singh lends greater agility to the fielding and is also able to bowl a containing line of left-arm spin — if needed. One of the drawbacks in Team India in the 2nd Test was that there was virtually no one who could bowl an Ashley-Giles-type or even a Monty-Panesar-type of containing-line at one end. Yuvraj Singh may give India that option.

Moreover, if Sree Santh appears to be still undercooked in the Sri Lanka ‘A’ game, I feel he should make way for either Ranadeb Bose, Ishant Sharma or Romesh Powar. The Oval does afford spin on days 3 and 4 and so, Powar would be a tempting option to go with. It depends, however, on how Bose, Sharma and Powar bowl in the tour game.

— Mohan

England Vs India: Test 2 Day 5 — No coach but many oval beans?

This was a terrific team performance by India to win the 2nd Test match against England. It was a good win indeed. And this was achieved without a coach!

David Lloyd can whinge all he wants about it being a lucky toss to win, but if England continue to wallow in their self-pity and if they continue to be lured by excuse-mongering, they’ll be in a sorry frame of mind when they go into the 3rd and final Test match of this series at The Oval.

Yes, it was a good toss to win. However, by pinning England’s loss on that one event, as the one-eyed — or is he totally blind(ed) — David Lloyd was trying to do would be foolish. I thought both Andy Flower, Englands’ Assistant Coach, as well as Peter Moores, the England Coach, got it spot on when they dismissed the importance of the toss. Andy Flower said that it would be tempting but weak to pin the reasons for the loss on the toss.

The Indian bowlers bowled well in this match. They put the ball in the right spots and they asked searching questions. I certainly haven’t seen Zaheer Khan bowl with as much guile, intensity, purpose and energy as he did in this match. He was ably supported by R. P. Singh. And although Kumble merely polished off the tail in both innings, he did the job. He would be disappointed with his showing — especially in the 2nd innings — and I am sure he would use the 9-day break between games to work on his shortcomings. Sree Santh had a sorry outing in this match (more of that later). But

But overall, the bowling unit performed well. The core unit was supported well by Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar too.

The Indian batting came good. The openers batted in a truly special manner. That set the platform for the Fab Four to accumulate the runs.

This was a wonderful team performance. In the past, several of India’s overseas victories have been set up by only a few people. I can think of Dravid, Dravid and Dravid. Did I mention Dravid, by the way? Think back to Headingly, Rawalpindi, Adelaide and Jamaica. Agreed Laxman contributed big-time in Adelaide and so did Agrarkar with his magic spell of bowling, but without Dravid’s brilliant 70+ in the second innings, India may have lost that one.

However, this victory was different. This was a good, solid team performance. Almost everyone played a part. Zaheer Khan did. R. P. Singh did. I thought his balls to dismiss Pietersen and Prior were the balls of this series so far. Kumble contributed by polishing off the tail in both innings — someone has to do it! Jaffer and Karthik did, with their solid opening partnership which dealt the Indian middle-order with a solid platform. The England 1st Innings score had been all but wiped out when the Fab Four got their opportunity. One cannot underestimate the value of this opening partnership. The Fab Four came into their own in this match. Although Dravid did not make enough, he did continue the foundation that the openers had provided. I thought Sachin Tendulkar and Ganguly played with much application and determination. I thought this may have been one of Ganguly’s best innings ever! VVS Laxman played well too…

The only players that missed out were Dhoni and Sree Santh.

From all of Dravid’s post match sound bytes, it does appear as though Sree Santh will be given a chop on the knuckles and a dreessing down. Ravi Shastri wanted an internal disciplinary action. I don’t know if the Indian team will go that far. But I do believe he will receive a dressing down. A visit to a shrink may be in order too.

Are India poor travellers? Dileep Premachandran and Siddhartha Vaidhyanathan from Cricinfo explode this myth. Suddenly, India’s away record is second to Australia’s! So much for the “stamp the visa and stamp out the team” tag that Team India has had to live with. In the last 10 years or so, ever since Ganguly took over the captaincy reigns, India have won in South Africa, Australia, West Indies, England (twice), Pakistan and Sri Lanka. If we discount the shocking series in New Zealand in 2003, India has won important games in all Test playing countries. Of course, I have not considered Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in this analysis.

Indeed, since 2000-01, India has won more matches overseas than it has lost! In that period, India has played 36 overseas matches, won 13 and lost 10! If we ignore the New Zealand series of 2002-2003 and all wins in Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, the results read: 28 matches, won 8, lost 8. This is better than any other team barring Australia!

The problem with India has been consistency, continued-focus and retained-intensity. As Dileep Premachandran argues, almost every good overseas win has been followed by a loss! What India needs is to put her foot on the pedal and leave it there.

The fact that the team bounced back from the near-defeat at Lords’ to a win at Trent Bridge augurs well for India. The determination to win was there and it was evident. Hopefully India will retain that hunger when they step onto The Oval. There is a chance — a brilliant opportunity — to create history here. I don’t believe the Fab Four and Kumble — all on their last visits to England, surely — won’t want to miss out on this opportunity.

I mentioned earlier on that England would be foolish to pin the reasons for their loss on the toss-loss. The reason I say this is because it takes the focus completely away from the ordinary performance of Alistair Cook, Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood and Matt Prior. Yes, the England bowlers bowled well. They bowled under worse conditions than India did. And yet they stuck to their task manfully. However, to ignore the problems that Struass and Cook are having would be foolish. To ignore the impetuosity of Collingwood and Bell in the first dig would be silly. They played atrocious shots when the situation demanded that they respect the conditions as well as the bowlers a lot more. And Collingwood, after getting a start in the 2nd Innings could not keep going. Ian Bell, like Alistair Cook and Andrew Strauss, is in all sorts. Matt Prior should really focus on his game and not on his next sledge. He, like his co-conspirator in the India Team — Sree Santh — appears to have lost the plot. A visit to a shrink would be needed to get him to focus on the next ball rather than the next sledge!

Which is why I think David Lloyd is being one-eyed! He needs to open the other eye and realise that there are some real problems that need to be solved; some questions that need to be answered.

So, let us head to The Oval. Hopefully we well see some more of those oval sugary beans there too so that Zaheer Khan can get fired up once again.

England Vs India: Test 2 Day 3 — England claw back…

On an intriguing day of Test cricket, England had their first good session of the ongoing Test match between England and India at Trent Bridge.

However, things did not go Englands’ way to start off. India had a solid first session on day-3 and did exactly what the doctor ordered — to see off the new ball and keep the scoreboard ticking. Ganguly looked assured and played with hunger. He was often seen egging his more illustrious partner on whenever Tendulkar played and missed to Sidebottom. The fire and hunger seemed to back in Ganguly. So also the swagger. He had even hooked Tremlett for a huge six over squre leg! And what’s more, to rub salt into the bowlers’ wounds, he made Tremlett wait at the top of his bowling mark as he turned sideways to admire the shot on the grounds’ TV screen! He was doing a Ganguly as only Ganguly can! This was a session that was India’s all the way. The forecast would have been ominous for England at lunch time. The scoreboard read 338/3. India had made 82 runs in 28 overs, had seen off the new ball and were playing Panesar with aplomb. Tendulkar was on 87 and Ganguly was on 53. Tendulkar was looking good for a century and even though Ganguly was 47 runs away from a three-figure mark, it seemed almost inevitable that he’d cross the three-figure mark too — he was playing as well as I have seen him play in a long time.

The first session of day-3 was clearly Indias’. Our session-by-session score card would have read 5-0 to India after 6 sessions of the match had been played.

At lunch time, England would have been looking for inspiration from somewhere. Maybe even an extra pair of legs! Maybe a fresh body? And that they did find. Suddenly, in the post-lunch session, it appeared as if England were playing with 12 players!

They clawed their way back into the match and even recruited an Australian to help them along in their journey. Tendulkar and Ganguly were sent packing by the Antipodean and England managed to get Dhoni out with their normal complement of players. Session 2 of day-3 had belonged to England.

Simon Taufel had a bad day at the office and unfortunately, the next time one of our Indian media pundits (or couch potato fans) adjust their spectacles, settle themselves comfortably into their chair/couch, dig the record book to say “it has been X innings since Ganguly/Tendulkar scored a century“, or “the last time Tendulkar/Ganguly scored a century was against a minnow“, the fact that the two players were robbed of certain centuries will have been forgotten. The record books merely state “SR Tendulkar lbw b Collingwood 91” and “SC Ganguly c Prior b Anderson 79“. And that is all there is to it. And that is all the scoreboard can say. You accept the good with the bad and move on. As Ganguly said phlegmatically, in his post-match, “You have to live with it“.

Just as Cook was not out, but given out in Englands’ first innings, the Indian team has to live with these two shockers from the normally good Antipodean.

And we should not really be making a big deal out of these screw-ups. We have to accept the good with the bad and move on. That’s exactly what Tendulkar did, and after a brief mind-fuse, Ganguly seemed to have accepted it too.

However, the worrying thing for Taufel would be his form. He has made some good decisions in this series so far. Of that there is no doubt. But he did send (if I am not mistaken) Dravid and Pietersen packing in the first Test. His handling of Cook, Tendulkar and Ganguly in this current Test could be the onset of a pattern. Just as players need to look at their form and their match preparedness, perhaps it is time for Taufel to stand back to take stock?

Jonathan Agnew, in his BBC blog, says that these two decisions ultimately “did not affect India’s position unduly“. Firstly, it is irrelevant whether or not it did. Secondly, I think it could well affect India’s position. Time will tell. However, I predict — perhaps foolishly — that there may well be a few more twists left in this match! More of that later.

England used their luck as a platform to claw their way into the match. Some will even say that they created their slice of luck — and that would be fair enough in my books! They stuck to their task manfully. Apart from Anderson who had suddenly started to look like the Anderson of old, all the other bowlers stuck to their task. Sidebottom and Panesar were particularly impressive. Their fielding never waned. Their players continued to chirp and chatter. One such monologue from Pietersen had perhaps crossed the line. It certainly caused Zaheer Khan to advance towards the slips cordon, threatening to introduce Pietersen’s face to the bat makers’ label. Perhaps Pietersen had asked about Zaheer Khan’s bat contract! As Andrew Miller says on Cricinfo, England need to talk less and bat more.

But then they did claw their way back into the game. Session-3 of day-3 also belonged to England, in my books. Although they did let Kumble get some runs and, in the process, develop a 50-run partnership with Laxman, they did polish off the India tail. They then batted sensibly and positively for the remaining 16 overs to end the day at 43 for no loss. England was helped by some poor bowling by Sreesanth. He seemed to be all over the place. He seemed to have lost his balance, his rhythm and his composure. He seemed horribly undercooked. Nasser Hussain, in his TV commentary, commented that Sreesanth did not bowl a single ball of pace in the morning nets! He bowled leg-spin instead! While Sreesanth appeared to be falling apart, Hussain commented, “I have no sympathy for the lad really.” Sreesanth’s final over of the day lasted nearly 7 minutes as he stuttered and spluttered his way to completion in an embarassing manner. It didn’t help either that Zaheer Khan and R. P. Singh seemed to be intent on bouncing out Strauss and Cook. But Sreesanth was the major disappointment for me. He would, I think, need an extended session in the nets with Venkatesh Prasad. If he doesn’t get his act together — and quickly — we could well see Romesh Powar as an extra spinner in the team for the 3rd and final The Oval Test match.

The match is delicately poised. My session-by-session score card reads, India 5, England 2. India is clearly in front. And they will be looking to Anil Kumble and Zaheer Khan to deliver them the goods. They’d need a solid bowling performance on a somewhat unhelpful pitch. The first session of day-4 could again hold the key. India should, I believe, adopt a batten-down-the-hatches-at-one-end policy while they attack from the other.

England have another 240 to get India to bat again. If the England openers build a good foundation, like the Indian openers did, then a Pietersen cameo can help wipe off the lead. From there on, it could be anyones’ match, in my view. England have their work cut out. But India have not done enough to ensure they do not bat again. As I said earlier, I don’t think the chapter on this Test match can be written, completed and set off to the sub-editors’ desk. The pitch is still playing reasonably well. Day-3 may have been the best day for batting, but I did not see any signs that would indicate that the pitch would deteriorate dramatically on day-4. The odd ball is keeping low, which would lead me to conclude that day-5 could be extremely tricky on this pitch. Which is why I don’t agree with Jonathan Agnew. Another 60-70 runs would have meant that India cannot lose this match. Although India is clearly in the drivers’ seat, if England have an exceptional day-4, it could lead to an extremely interesting day-5 of this game. The weather forecast is for two good days.

All I can say is “bring it on”.

— Mohan

Egg turns to Hour Glass

Cricinfo’s Siddhartha Vaidhyanathan, in an excellent analysis at the end of Day-4 of the recently concluded 1st Test between England and India, indicated that India went into the Test with an egg-shaped strength graph but came out of it with the strength graph looking strangely like an hour-glass.

And so, we have a strange situation of it being an egg (or a gilli — of gilli-danda fame) turning into an hour glass.

Siddhartha Vaidhyanathan’s thesis is that India went into the Test match with its much vaunted middle-order as its key, underpinning strength. What we got at the end of the game was a situation whereby the players that we expected relatively lesser stuff from stood up, put their hands up and asked to be counted.

Wasim Jaffer, Dinesh Karthik, R. P. Singh, Zaheer Khan, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Sree Santh came out of it with their heads held high. The personnel that were expected to slaughter the greenhorns in the opposition had surrendered meekly — twice in one game.

It is so true. Tim de Lisle talks about this as Goliaths being in awe of Davids!

I suspect that it is a case of IBRADM too. Somehow, the Indian middle order needs to get out of its slumber and deliver the goods. Far too often in recent memory, the middle order has surrendered the initiative through purposeless and listless batting.

Sure Englands’ bowlers bowled well. But these are champion batsmen that we are talking about. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and V. V. S. Laxman have scored nearly 30,000 Test runs between them! They are not wet behind the ears! Surely they can do better. Surely they can turn their 30s into 60s and their 60s into hundreds!

The bowlers have shown that they can pull things together — I say this inspite of the horror start to proceedings in both innings. Zaheer Khan bowled well in patches. Sreesanth seemed to have great difficulty bowling to left handers. Kumble was not as penetrative and did not ask as many questions as he normally does. Inspite of these deficiencies, the bowling stuck to the task. I thought Dravid marshalled his bowling resources brilliantly. I have hope that this department will improve in the 2nd and 3rd Tests. If the bowling improves — and they will, I believe — then, what is needed is a rethinking of the batting strategy.

India cannot go into the 2nd Test with a “everything will be right” attitude with respect to the batting. Something has got to change. There has to be fresh thinking. There has got to be fresh blood. There has got to be a shake-up.

I know that my suggestion may not be palatable to some, but one of the following has got to happen:

(a) One of Ganguly or V. V. S. Laxman will have to step down and make way for Yuvraj Singh. From what I saw of Ganguly, I observed a willingness for the fight. I saw the fire still burning. He wanted to be in the fight and he also delivered India an important breakthrough with his bowling. I did not see the willingness for a fight in Laxman. He is no Michael Hussey at #6. And so, I would suggest that Laxman sits out this next match.

(b) If (a) doesn not happen — for whatever reason — then at the very least, Sachin Tendulkar needs to swap his position with V. V. S. Laxman.

For India to go into the next match with the same middle order would be — in my view — a folly. In this 1st Test, against a weak attack, India got out of jail. Surely, India can do better than that!

India will go into the 2nd Test in a positive frame of mind. It is certainly better going into the 2nd Test with a scoreline that reads 0-0 rather than 0-1. The bowlers bowled the opposition out twice for under 300. India’s 2nd innings score equalled Englands’ score in the 2nd dig. One could say that but for the crazy first hour, India may have done better. However, the fact remains that the egg-shaped graph failed India — twice. And that is a trend that has existed for quite some time now.

This is the right time to start infusing new blood into the team; new blood that will bring with it personnel who want to fight in a real Test of their mettle. This is, I believe, the opportunity to commence the process of ringing in the changes.

Dinesh Karthik shows that he wants to be there. He wants to fight. Every outing is treated by him as a gift — and potentially his last outing! We need more of his tribe in the team.

It is time for Indian cricket to start its own changing of the guards. The time is now…

— Mohan

Heck, we can still beat England!

Thank the Rain Gods
The first Test is over, while most of the fans were disappointed to see the sixth wicket fall with over 50 overs remaining and resigned to the fate of another Lord’s defeat, I had started my rain dance and heartfelt prayers to Varuna. The rains came, and yes, India were lucky to get out of jail; and to be fair England deserved to win. But life isn’t always fair and that’s that.

But still, there were positives
While a lot will be written about the positives and negatives of this match (Mohan Krishnamoorthy already has some incisive comments after Day 4), Dravid can take heart for the fact that 3 of his youngsters put their hands up to be counted – RP Singh, Karthik and Dhoni.

What was most impressive was that our inexperienced pace attack helped to dismiss England twice for under 300.

The middle order of Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman didn’t have a spectacular outing but there were periods where they looked in control, even if not on top of the bowling.

The English bowling
Apart from Monty, India haven’t faced much of the English pacers in the Test arena. Sidebottom is a much-improved bowler compared to his disastrous debut in 2001. The Indian line up except for Ganguly is all right handed and it is not easy to face a lefty who consistently swings it in. I am certain the Indians would have learnt their lesson and play him just a fraction late and mostly on the front foot (tip by Jeff Boycott on BBC) at Nottingham.

The real surprise package was James Anderson who bowled exceptionally well. The Indians need to come up with something to tackle him at Trent Bridge. For starters – a positive attitude will be of great help.

The Laxman question
India is likely to go in with the same eleven and so will England. Laxman is likely to get the nod again ahead of Yuvraj.

Laxman is a class act but needs time to settle down before he can let loose his array of strokes. This often means he will be a slow starter. Another problem is that if Dhoni gets out early, in my opinion Laxman doesn’t have the ability to shepherd the tail. He can be slow to adapt to the changing situation of the game.

I believe (much to the chagrin of Tendulkar fans and fellow bloggers), Tendulkar and Laxman should swap places. Tendulkar has the ability to shift gears as well as rotate the strike better than Laxman. For once, let us be bold and try something different.

Heck, we can still beat England. Just win the toss, put 400+ on the board and get Pietersen cheaply 😀

– Vish