Can India square the series in Nagpur? I would like to think they can provided they play up to potential. The two successive defeats as only to be expected have drawn a lot of post mortems. Rahul Dravid for one has said that Dhoni’s men lack the talent, skill and ability to beat top teams while Nasser Hussain is of the opinion that India’s God-like cricketers have to change their attitude while questioning their commitment.
I would rather go with Nasser’s views. As I have mentioned in my earlier columns, man for man there is hardly any difference between the two teams. Plainly put, England have played above their potential while India have played below their potential and that is why the series stands 2-1 in favour of the visitors.
India has the players with the talent, skill, ability and experience to beat England. They did so at Ahmedabad in the series opener. There is every reason to believe that they put aside the dismal showing of the last two matches and put up an improved show at Nagpur – enough even to win and level the series. That is the incentive for Dhoni and his men.
Whatever the surface – and let us hope a big hullabaloo is not raised about it – India have the batsmen and bowlers to conquer Alastair Cook and his men though admittedly the fielding standards would have to improve. I am convinced that the unsavoury and needless squabbling over the Eden Gardens track was one reason why India lost the Test.
The Indian team members have to believe that they have the necessary qualities to get the better of England on any wicket. This obsession that they can defeat this opposition only on turning tracks has got to end. The Indians can beat any team on any surface provided they are playing at home. And right now they are playing in their own backyard.
This is the self-belief they must have and the confidence they have to exude. And believe me they have the personnel to pull off a victory at Nagpur. Let us start at the top of the batting order. A lot has been said and written about Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir and the lack of runs. The fact remains that they have not done badly in the series and the performance compares disfavourably only with their overall record.
Gambhir has got 214 runs at an average of 42.80 with two half centuries. One of these in the second innings at Mumbai was a little gem that underscored the fighting abilities of the left hander. First in and last out after standing first amidst the ruins on a difficult wicket is the kind of pugnacious knock that Gambhir is known for.
Sehwag’s figures are similar – 253 runs at an average of 42.16 with one century. Besides he has got a couple of starts. And as the whole cricketing world knows he is a batsman who can decimate any bowling line-up and be a match winner.
At No. 3, the Indians have Cheteswar Pujara who is comfortably ahead in the figures with 412 runs at an average of 103 with a century and a double hundred. Little more needs be said. Admittedly there are problems with the No. 4 and No. 5 positions with the runs drying up for both Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli.
Tendulkar’s lean patch has continued for an extended period and one can only hope that the law of averages catches up with him at Nagpur and he can play a timely knock particularly with the calls for retirement getting more vociferous. That would be the best way to silence his critics.
Kohli’s form is a bit of a worry for when the series started he seemed to be the leader of the GenNext of cricketers. His lean run however is a short one and he has the game and the big heart to come out from it.
In the absence of Yuvraj Singh, it could be either Ravindra Jadeja or Ravichandran Ashwin coming in at No. 6. Both are in form the former having notched up a feat which no other Indian cricketer has achieved – three triple hundreds in first class cricket - while Ashwin scored an unbeaten 91 at Kolkata besides a 68 at Mumbai. His bowling might have fallen off a bit but he is too good a batsman to be going in at No. 8.
However with Jadeja around he could still find himself batting at that position at Nagpur too. To be candid he could at least go in at No. 7 for Dhoni’s woeful run with the bat is getting to be a major problem. His keeping has seen better days and now that he is not able to contribute with the bat and with the team losing it is little wonder that calls have been made for his removal as captain.
Coming to the bowling it can only be hoped that it will be Parvinder Awana and Ashok Dinda who will open the attack at Nagpur and not Ishant Sharma. It was a big game at Kolkata for Ishant as he was making a comeback after fitness problems but he was strangely listless.
Despite Ashwin losing the plot of late he and Pragyan Ojha have done reasonably well and now with the support of Jadeja they could form an effective spin trio – maybe even a match winning one.
The accent of the Indians should be on attack and an ambushed England side could well surrender. A positive attitude, intense commitment and aggressive captaincy is the need of the hour for India as they look to avoid a Test series loss at home for the first time since 2004.