Oval Test: It is important for Kohli, Pujara to score, writes Aakash Chopra
For India to salvage some pride in the ongoing Test series against England, batsmen Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara have to get among the runs at The Oval, writes Aakash Chopra
Had the Indians lost the last Test at Old Trafford, resisting the English onslaught up until the last ball bowled, their fans wouldn't have felt the way they are at this moment. Losing a match is acceptable, but losing without a fight is not, not at all.
Virat Kohli walks back after being dismissed for a duck on Day One of the fourth Test last week. Pic/Getty Images
It was an abject surrender by the Indians at Manchester. We got bundled out for 152 on the first day of the Test match, understandable though, for there was enough lateral movement on a pitch that offered more bounce and pace than any other pitch that the Indians had encountered so far. But what followed next left everyone dumbfounded.
Firstly, MS Dhoni's tactics of invariably starting the new session or day with lesser bowlers made little sense, for that's when the batsmen are most susceptible. It's criminal not to make use of that window of opportunity.
The scoreboard might tell you that the lesser bowlers didn't concede too many runs during that brief period but Test cricket is about biding time and finding feet, and once Test batsmen have done both even the best bowlers find it tough to dislodge them.
Then, the batting display in the second innings crushed any hope of bouncing back in the match and, perhaps, in the series. One after the other, Indian batsmen played loose shots and no one barring R Ashwin showed the gumption for a fight.
Stuart Broad's absence, James Anderson's illness, lack of quality support from Chris Woakes and Chris Jordan and an easing pitch raised the hopes of an act of defiance from this Indian batting unit. To be fair, this young Indian team may be lacking in experience but they've already shown on tours to South Africa,
New Zealand and the ongoing series that there's some serious quality in its ranks. They may not boast of a world-class bowling unit but the quality in the batting department is visible to all. Unfortunately, they lost the second innings in the mind.
These lines came to my mind while watching India's meekest surrender in my living memory — "If you think you are beaten, you are, If you think you dare not, you don't.
Cheteshwar Pujara stretches during a practice session at The Oval on Wednesday. Pic/AFP
If you like to win, but you think you can't,It is almost certain you won't. If you think you'll lose, you're lost, Life's battles don't always go To the stronger or faster man.
But soon or late the man who wins, Is the man who thinks he can." The Indian team didn't think that they could actually bat long enough to save the Test match, for if they were to watch the video footage, the kind of shots they played on the third evening, they'd be ashamed of their effort.
Ravindra Jadeja walked down the track to hit Anderson while Dhoni was at the other end. Ajinkya Rahane's loose shot to Mooen Ali, Dhoni's slog to Mooen while Ashwin holding fort and Bhuvneshwar Kumar's run-out were few such instances. It hurt a billion people that all this was panning out a day before a storm was expected to hit Manchester. The fact that it rained heavily on what would've been Day 4 and 5 rubbed salt on the already open wounds.
The Indian team had started digging a hole in the third Test itself but the hole became so deep in the fourth that it seems it'll take them a herculean effort to climb out of it. Earlier it was about playing the right combination, employing attacking tactics but now it's also about the mindset and the approach to the last Test.
Play seven batsmen
If India gives a serious thought to redemption, a couple of changes in the playing XI become mandatory. While earlier I advocated playing five bowlers, post the Old Trafford disaster, I dare not suggest the same combination.
India lost twenty wickets in less than 90 overs, which means it's imperative to play an extra batsman in Rohit Sharma, ideally in place of Jadeja.
Ishant Sharma could be the other change provided he's fully fit and has put in at least 5-6 rigorous bowling sessions, for playing a half-fit Ishant might boomerang. India's only hope for salvaging some pride is Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli scoring at The Oval, and if that happens, India might walk away with a draw.