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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Trent Bridge, the scene of a famous draw in 2002 and an epic win in 2007. India return to the venue having lost the first Test, and look in some trouble. Virender Sehwag is still not available and Zaheer Khan is a doubtful starter. They appear shaken, though not by any means down and out. With or without Zaheer, they will have to shape up and play a lot better than they did at Lord's.

Lets back the truck up a bit. Should we be surprised India lost the first Test? Taking nothing away from what India have achieved over the past few years, they had little time to acclimatize, had rusty players returning from injuries, and were without Sehwag. They lost, but weren't steamrolled. It wasn't a crushing loss. They will pick themselves up. That's what good teams do.

India have been No. 1 in Test cricket for some time. They've beaten Australia, England, Sri Lanka at home. They drew with South Africa home and away. They won in New Zealand, drew in Sri Lanka. There have been some fantastic wins in their ascent to the top spot, and thereafter too - Chennai, Hamilton, Colombo, Mohali, and Durban. Also, there have been commendable draws - Napier and Cape Town. But there have also been defeats like the one at Lord's - Colombo, Nagpur, Galle and Centurion. Five defeats in four years says that this is a very good side.

But, is it a champion side, fair earners of the No. 1 tag? No. In winning these matches and series, did India look like a champion side? In spurts. Never did they carry an aura of invincibility that previous West Indian and Australian sides have. They have never intimidated by their presence on the field. A few Australian and South African bowlers have admitted being cautious of Harbhajan Singh, but never was there any apparent feat in the way India took the field.

The bowling has always been suspect. Zaheer has been the workhorse; Harbhajan inconsistent; Ishant and Sreesanth unreliable; Mishra never convincing; Ojha too safe; Mithun too raw. That India managed to win as many Tests and move to top of the pile is proof of how much they have eked out of such an inconsistent bowling attack and how much they have relied on their big bats. Twenty wickets is the best way to win a Test, but having the likes of Sehwag, Gambhir, Tendulkar and Laxman carry the team has been immense.

The win over Australia in Mohali owed much to the batsmen; Tendulkar, Sehwag and the middle order set up the win in Nagpur; Chennai was all about Sehwag and Tendulkar; Sehwag's outstanding 293 downed Sri Lanka in Mumbai; Sehwag, Laxman and Raina starred in Colombo; that legendary last-wicket win over Australia in Mohali wouldn't have been possible without Tendulkar, Raina and - BIG PROPS - Laxman; in Bangalore Tendulkar, Vijay and Pujara played big roles.

Yes, the bowlers chipped in collectively and factored in these wins, but without the batsmen - and mostly the seniors - victory would not have been possible. There have been wins set up by the bowlers, but more often than not it has been the batsmen who have outweighed the bowlers.

And so, after the loss at Lord's, India need Gambhir, Tendulkar, Laxman and Dhoni to fire. The bowling, if Zaheer does not play, will be weaker but it is the batsmen who will need to deliver. Gambhir will need to bat out the first session of India's innings, shepherding Mukund. Tendulkar will need to get rid of whatever ailed him in London and forget this whole 100th century nonsense. Laxman will need to step up should these two fail, and Dhoni ... well Dhoni needs to sort out his head before anything else. He didn't seem to be there at all at Lord's. This happens to him sometimes. India can't afford to have their talisman leader out of sorts.

At Lord's India were under-prepared, overconfident, and outplayed. The better team won and now the series moves on. Test cricket at its best. 


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