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India’s shambolic display in the third Test at Southampton saw England win a completely one-sided match by 266 runs. What stood out in India’s abject defeat was a lack of intent and focus. Shiamak Unwalla feels that the tourists must dig deep if they are to win their next encounter at Old Trafford.
How the tides can change! In a matter of mere days, a team that looked battered and weary have overcome a side that looked ready to rule the world. India bounced England out at Lord’s, thereby completing what many considered the finest overseas Test win by in India for years. That their surrender in the very next game was so entirely lacking in fight back was not only surprising, it was also rather disheartening. One would have expected a side coming off of such a remarkable victory to show some more character.
The problem was apparent right from the start; Stuart Binny was replaced by Rohit Sharma. It was a defensive move when aggression was the need of the hour. Rather than strengthening their batting — which was good enough to earn a draw and a win in the first two games — India could have bolstered their bowling by including either Ravichandran Ashwin or Binny himself; especially considering that Ishant Sharma, the man, who bowled a match-winning spell of seven for 74, was ruled out of the game.
However, the fact that Pankaj Singh, the debutant, was the most animated and eager Indian player on the field says a lot about the lack of intensity shown by his teammates; teammates that had just pulled off an incredible victory at Lord’s. Alastair Cook was dropped on 15. He went on to score twin fifties, and could well have found enough form to lead England with far more confidence than he has led them with in a very long time.
Ian Bell was allowed to settle down with some short and wide bowling from the Indian pacers, and went on to lambast the bowling. Jos Buttler, on debut, was gifted two chances — one while he was on naught — and ended up hitting 85 at a strike rate of over 100. India were drooping in the field, and England cashed in majorly. India then gifted their first-innings wickets away with some atrocious shot selection. Had Cook enforced the follow-on, India would have been in a very precarious position indeed. Instead, he chose to bat again, and set India a daunting but gettable target of 445.
Shikhar Dhawan, the man who scored a breath-taking 187 on debut, could have come out all guns blazing, thereby throwing England off completely. He struck his first delivery to the boundary, but went into a shell thereafter. Murali Vijay, India’s most successful batsman of the series, hardly looked convincing as he was run out while going for a non-existent run. The real culprits though, were Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli.
Pujara and Kohli. Undoubtedly two of India’s finest young batsmen. Pujara, who revels in fourth-innings heroics (remember the 72 on debut, and the unbeaten 82 against Australia?). And Kohli, whose golden run of form has lasted for over three years now. Two young batsmen who dominate spin comprehensively. Both men were out defending to Moeen Ali, hardly the most threatening spinner England have had over the last decade.
India ended Day Four at 112 for four, needing 333 runs to win. With three sessions in which to score 333, a bit of positive intent from Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane — who actually did bat quite well — could have turned the game on its head. Instead, Rohit was out early, MS Dhoni followed suit, and India rolled over without a fight.
Unless India plays to win — rather than playing not to lose — they have no chance of succeeding at Old Trafford. India need to be focused, and must find the intensity within themselves to go for a victory. If they do, they could well hold the series 2-1 come the final Test.
(Shiamak Unwalla is a reporter with Cricket Country. He is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek and Cricket fanatic who likes to pass his free time by reading books, watching TV shows, and eating food. Sometimes all at the same time. You can follow him on twitter at @ShiamakUnwalla)
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