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Dream a little Oval dream

Not many pundits are giving India a chance to rise from rocky terrain and put up a creditable performance at the Oval.

Losing two Tests in a row has provided a justifiable reason to be cynical about this Indian team. For, one cannot recollect a similar recent woeful batting performance in both innings of a Test, like what was witnessed at Manchester.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni may have better days as captain and the BCCI will ensure he gets that opportunity to make amends, but nothing can stop history from registering his team’s shambolic performance at Old Trafford.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni may have better days as captain and the BCCI will ensure he gets that opportunity to make amends, but nothing can stop history from registering his team’s shambolic performance at Old Trafford. Pic/AFP
Mahendra Singh Dhoni may have better days as captain and the BCCI will ensure he gets that opportunity to make amends, but nothing can stop history from registering his team’s shambolic performance at Old Trafford. Pic/AFP

The heavy defeat at Southampton in the third Test notwithstanding, it was hard to believe that this was a team that outwitted England in the second Test at Lord’s to go one-up in
the series.

Sure, there was no Ishant Sharma, the Lord’s hero in this line-up, but what about the batting? It is hard to put it down as an aberration. If winning another Test is near unimaginable, what India can hope for is a solid batting performance and one of those talented batsmen must come up with a monumental effort.

Several former players have expressed dismay at the batting, and I can well understand why they go on about how the art of building an innings seems to be missing from the current lot’s skills kit.

A few of them question what is the coach doing and compared the scenario to a student-teacher relationship, where a good teacher will ensure his ward doesn’t make the same mistake again.

Wonder what drill coach Duncan Fletcher uses to drive it into the batsmen’s heads that flirting with the red cherry outside off-stump is like standing on the edge of a cliff.

Fletcher may have well read out the riot act, but he must be seen and heard at media briefings, too. Else, he will be viewed as a powerless force in the support staff.

Apparently, it has become more of a mental challenge now for Dhoni and his men.

Clearly, they need to be positive and be convinced that it’s not impossible to beat England. With due credit to their wins in the last two Tests, can the England camp really say that they actually won them more than the opposition lost them?

It’s a good time to crush some ‘myths’ which are gaining ground. They are:
# India doesn’t care too much for Test cricket.
# Their players are pampered.
# They only want to play the Indian Premier League, which is more financially rewarding, so why bother about excelling in Test cricket?
# They don’t have the bottle for the fight; are jelly-like when they are down.

The Oval has witnessed some inspirational performances over the years, and has been kind to teams looking to thwart the hosts in a series finale. Probably, the most famous of them was Australia’s perfect show in 1972, after being 1-2 down in the series.

I’m not too sure whether Dhoni can say the same to his team, but Australia captain Ian Chappell told his boys that he was convinced they were a better side than England. However, he wouldn’t be able to say that publicly if they lose the final Test at the Oval.

On Test match eve, he announced that Doug Walters will not be in the playing XI and that was some bomb. For the first time in history, Australia went into a Test without a New South Wales player.

It didn’t matter to Chappell that Walters, apart from being a friend, was a class player and his senior batsman. But, he didn’t have a bucket full of runs to retain his place. The determination level of his team was very high, especially after they were beaten on a seemingly doctored pitch at Leeds.

The captain led by example with a fine hundred at No 3, and put on 201 runs with brother Greg, who scored his second century in four Tests. Pace demon Dennis Lillee claimed 10 wickets in the Test, but there were other vital performances, too, in a match which Australia won by five wickets.

The waving of bats by unbeaten batsmen Paul Sheahan and Rod Marsh, after the winning runs were hit, showed in ample measure what this victory meant to the team.

The series was drawn 2-2 and Ian Chappell could indeed say that his Aussies were superior to Ray Ilingworth’s Englishmen.

It’s time for Dhoni to make a similar statement.

Clayton Murzello is mid-day’s Group Sports Editor

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