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Wednesday, 17 August 2011

India must force the English attack

Will the Oval test head the same way? Is a whitewash inevitable?

Fans on both sides are waiting for a real contest, at least one in this otherwise one-sided series so far. The Indian batting line up has much to prove. They have to find a way to take on the challenge of the relentless English pace attack. The Oval will present conditions suitable to achieve this goal, certainly more conducive than the previous three venues.

Much has been said in recent days about the causes and fixes, short term and long term challenges, facing the Indian test team. Some have even expressed the risk to the popularity of test match cricket itself. There are five solutions listed somewhere, and ten elsewhere.

In my humble opinion, way too much analysis and criticism of everything is going around. Here are the facts - England on relative strengths and form are deserving test champions. It is the margins of victory which have astounded all.

If the margins must be explained, it distills to only two issues. One of these issues was kind of expected. The weakness of the Indian bowling was scripted, not much surprise there really. This was further accentuated in the very first session of the series, when Zaheer walked away with a hamstring injury.

The second issue has been the real surprise and root cause of the big margins of defeat. The most mature batting line up in test cricket has not yet found a way to deal with the England pace battery in this series. There have been glimpses of solidity and aggression, but not enough consistency to post competitive scores.

The tall English seamers have bowled with good pace, very disciplined lines and consistent nagging lengths. They have used the occasional bouncer to a plan and achieved the result, more often than not. They have worked in combinations, giving no respite from either end.

The only one way forward for India is to try to get the English bowlers off their groove, upset their rhythm. India just have to force experimentation, change of lines and lengths, wavering of plans. And the Indian batting order have the ability and the experience to do so. They have to create the bad balls. Attritional cricket can not work in these conditions, not against this attack, not when they control each session and defintely not when they are under no threat. Sehwag, Gambhir, Tendulkar, Laxman and Dhoni have to attack, ideally play around Dravid, and stretch Strauss' bowlers into errors. 

And finally something I have maintained through this series. India can not go in with four bowlers, not with their quality, and as the series has proven, with the consequent workload. Munaf, RP and Ojha should get the Oval game alongside Ishant and Mishra. At this level, PK holds limited threat. But hey, he could be in for Mishra, as an all-rounder !

To the final test of this series, here we go! Happy viewing!
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