Wearing a black and yellow tee-shirt over faded denims, Sourav Ganguly was in the middle of delivering his ‘Masterclass’, filmed by the host broadcasters on match eve. On the other set of practice pitches, a group in sharp suits — invitees at a corporate event — were getting the first feel of the Oval’s central square. These sideshows, however, were soon about to fold up as the main actors, the Indian cricketers, had begun trickling down the dressing room stairs.
And then it started raining. Pouring, rather. It was a funny sight as a star in casuals, the nobodies in formals and the Indian cricketers in their training blues all ran together seeking shelter under the Oval’s roof. Adding to the confusion were the groundsmen who were rushing the opposite way, armed with covers. For the next hour or so, the Indians sat in the dressing room balcony watching the drenched outfield below and the stunning flashes of lightning above. The eerie silence of a gloomy day would occasionally be broken by the sudden deafening clap of thunder.
Eventually, they left the stadium without getting a feel of the field. Their bus crawled on the busy road in the heavy evening rush and under heavier cloud cover. The Indians would have preferred a more rigorous outing at the venue. But the depressing sight of dark clouds has been associated with fresh, painful memories. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s decision to bat first at Manchester, followed closely by the two batting collapses occurred when the English summer began resembling both a south Indian monsoon and a north Indian winter.
In London for the second time in this Test series, the cloud cover and swinging conditions will continue to haunt the Indians. After a couple of cloudy days, the forthcoming Test is expected to witness intermittent rains before the sun finally emerges in all its glory on the final day. The wicket is expected to be slow, but since when has that bothered James Anderson? He doesn’t bank on the movement off-the-pitch; Anderson gets wickets by creating doubts in the minds of batsmen with his magic that turn balls into boomerangs.
A stitch in time
Stuart Broad, someone who can be the perfect pair-up with Anderson for a buddy movie, will be back by his side after the forced absence in the second innings at Old Trafford. With a heavily strapped nose, because of the blow he took in the last Test while batting, Broad bowled a longish spell and faced several ‘short ball’ throw-downs from batting coach Mark Ramprakash.
For England, it’s the perfect set up to go 3-1 up and opportunity to complete a perfect turnaround. Even if it finishes 2-2, the pre-series calls of Alastair Cook’s sacking perhaps wouldn’t be raised again. Today, at the start of the England training session, Broad, while running next to his skipper, said: “It doesn’t seem a year ago we were lifting the Ashes.” Cook would reply, “It might not to you, but it does to me.” Speaking about the training time interaction at the press conference, the finally smiling captain said, “A lot has happened in a year and over the next year. that’s the beauty of sport that you don’t know what’s going to happen (next). We’ve made a big stride forward in the last few weeks as a side.”
The same cannot be said about India, of course. They did take a stride forward at Lord’s but soon they were pushed a couple of steps back. A win here, a very remote possibility, will be seen as a big achievement for the inexperienced team. A loss might trigger temporary uproar but Dhoni will not have to face the kind of pressure Cook did. His runs alone in the series will save him. Though, he averages a modest 33, Dhoni has been more successful than Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli, the two batsmen who were supposed to India’s mainstay here.
For India to do well, Dhoni, the captain, like the batsmen he has been in this series, needs to make some adjustments. The return of Ishant Sharma will certainly makes things easier for him but he needs to be more astute in his team selection, field placement and bowling changes.
Dhoni denied that India might go in for a stand-in opener despite the fact that Shikhar Dhawan, or his replacement Gautam Gambhir, haven’t been close to finding form so far. So the talk about pushing Pujara or Rohit Sharma to the top surely won’t come true. He was candid when speaking about the combination, saying India will continue to stick with five bowlers and didn’t hide the fact that he had a word with the boys after the Old Trafford batting debacle. The only time he was secretive was when he was asked about how he spent his extra day of rest between the Tests.
On a long tour, he didn’t need to be secretive or defensive about taking a break. Maybe, just maybe, playing paint-ball, watching football, going to shooting range or even counting rain drops can make you play better cricket.
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