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India tour of England 2014: MS Dhoni’s men aim to take unassailable lead in Test series

India beat England at Lord's by 95 runs © Getty Images
India beat England at Lord’s by 95 runs © Getty Images

By Chetan Narula

Southampton: Jul 26, 2014

They have snatched the momentum with a brilliant show on the dreaded Lord’s green-top and India’s in-form cricketers would now aim to take an unassailable series lead against a demoralised England side in the third Test starting here tomorrow. The visitors won the second Test at Lord’s by 95 runs on a green-top after the first Test at Nottingham was drawn. The stage is now set for Mahendra Singh Dhoni‘s men to overwhelm the hosts, who are in turmoil.

The victory at Lord’s marked an end to the 15-match long drought without an overseas Test win. It stretched as far back as 2011, when India had beaten West Indies at Kingston. That was also the last time that the Dhoni-led side took a 1-0 series lead overseas. In that light, this is uncharted territory for a young team. Back then, India won the Test series in the Caribbean by the slimmest of margins, drawing the next two Tests at Barbados and Dominica.

This is purely a statistical memory because Dhoni makes it a point to segregate the present from the past. But there can be some learning from history and it is for that purpose they had recruited former Indian cricketer Rahul Dravid as mentor ahead of this Test series. The legendary batsman was part of the Indian side that last played a five-Test series, back in 2002, coincidentally too against the West Indies.

India, under Sourav Ganguly back then, had taken the lead at Trinidad, squandered it away at Barbados in the third Test, and then lost the series at Kingston in the fifth Test eventually. At this juncture it can be hoped that he also impressed upon this young team how to wade through untested waters. Unlike that tour, this series doesn’t have a tour game in between any of the Tests. A long drawn-out encounter can be a gruelling affair especially if it is packed in 40-odd days.

India need to watch out against two factors — complacency and bowlers’ workload — and that the two are indirectly related. On Friday, three batsmen spent most time in the nets. Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli were hard at work because they obviously want to make an impact before it is too late. The third was Rohit Sharma — whose absence from the eleven hasn’t been noticed thanks to the victory at Lord’s. He was as busy in the practice session two days before the game as someone who had already been informed of his return to the starting line-up.

It begs the question of the fifth bowler once again. In the first two Tests, Stuart Binny has only bowled 20 overs and both his spells have been in the first innings. While the hosts only batted once at Trent Bridge, it was telling that Binny didn’t get a single over at Lord’s when India looked to defend 319 runs. Surprisingly, Dhawan bowled two overs while Murali Vijay sent down four in that innings.

Even Rohit can bowl some part-time spin and it could mark a move back to the seven-batsmen-four-bowlers-formula, especially now that India have taken a 1-0 lead. The danger here is inherent. If India do revert to this line-up, it will send a message to the opposition that they are now in safety-first mode on the one side. On the other hand, it will also put more physical pressure on the bowlers. The fifth bowler didn’t rack up the numbers, but his presence in the line-up provided a mental cushion to the primary bowling attack.

The medium-pacers attacked at will, bowling incisive spells, relying on Ravindra Jadeja and Binny’s 20-odd overs to take a breather. Short-term as it may have been, but this approach worked. And this has been highlighted by India’s ‘light-weight’ attack out-bowling England’s more experienced unit on their home turf. They adjusted better to the flat track in Nottingham where the home-side were experimenting at all times, and were exceptional in their use of the green-pitch at Lord’s wherein the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad simply wasted the new ball on Day One.

A return to the four-bowlers theory inadvertently means more physical exertion for the medium-pacers because whenever India will feel the pressure, one of them will be called into service. The pitch at Southampton’s Ageas Bowl ranks somewhere in between the ones at Trent Bridge and Lord’s — green to start with and expected to dry out over the five days.

And the one man who could provide an ample solution to India’s fifth-bowler conundrum — Ravichandran Ashwin — has been on the sidelines since the tour began. Dhoni confessed after the Lord’s victory that he isn’t even thinking about playing two spinners. With Rohit loosening up, Binny idling away and Ashwin still only in second gear in the net sessions, there won’t be much change in the captain’s thinking come the toss.

Meanwhile, for England, there is only one option and that is to bounce back in this match somehow. Two days before the Test, the Level 2 charge against Jadeja was reduced to a Level 1 offence and he was only docked 50 percent of his match fees (verdict under protest from the BCCI). It could be a possible indicator to James Anderson’s amplified role in that particular incident from Trent Bridge.

Even if the fast bowler is given a minimum punishment under the Level 3 charge against him on August 1, this could be his last outing in the current series. The home-team desperately needs someone from their ranks to come forth and put in an inspirational performance, breaking away from the trend of some insipid cricket played this summer. Jos Buttler, lined up for his Test debut in place of Matt Prior, is one such aggressive player. Ideally though, England will like their two senior-most batsmen to make a stand. Their names are Ian Bell and skipper Alastair Cook.

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