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Five ways India can improve for the third Test against Eng

The batting must pick itself up significantly, Ashok Dinda needs a debut and India must firm up mentally going into the Eden Gardens Test.

George Koshy & Shailesh Rai | |December 4, 2012, 12:43 PM IST
Five ways India can improve for the third Test against Eng

1. Firm up the batting

India's batting was poor in Mumbai, barring Cheteshwar Pujara's excellent first-innings century and a dogged half-century in the second from Gautam Gambhir. Most damning was the collapse on the third afternoon when spin accounted for seven Indian wickets. Numbers two to seven managed 41 runs between them. Subtract Gambhir's resourceful unbeaten 53 and India would have folded, instead of leading by 31 runs with three wickets remaining at stumps. It was as abject an Indian performance as can be at home in conditions supposed to favor them.

Sample the list of dismissals: Virender Sehwag edged to gully; Pujara inside-edged to short leg; Sachin Tendulkar was caught dead on the crease when playing back; Virat Kohli, inexplicably, hit a full toss to mid-off; Yuvraj Singh gloved to short leg; and MS Dhoni, whose technique to spin has been suspect, nicked to slip. Apart from Pujara, each dismissal had a common factor – insecurity.

With the ball gripping and turning, India's batsmen were unsure of what approach to take. Sehwag and Dhoni played at big-turning deliveries with hard hands. Tendulkar was set up by Panesar for the second time in the match, following up deliveries that pushed him forward by ones that left him unsure of what line to play down. Yuvraj was thrusting in the dark aimlessly and Kohli … well, Kohli is probably the best person to describe what he was doing chipping a full toss to mid-off.

India are now in danger of giving up an unassailable series lead in Kolkata. If the batsmen don't see that as reason to firm up and play to their expected levels, it's hard to imagine what will.

2. Bring in Ashok Dinda

India's decision to field three primary spinners in Mumbai came a cropper. In Kolkata, despite debates about the nature about the pitch, India need to put forward their best team and Pragyan Ojha, R Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh do not complete that. India sorely missed a shot of pace in the second Test – they would have had that if Umesh Yadav wasn't injured - and a crocked Zaheer Khan cannot handle the workload.

The options for second pace bowler are Ishant Sharma and Ashok Dinda – hardly the most menacing duo but India have to work with what they've got. Ishant can work up more pace than Dinda, yet to debut in Test cricket, but he's yet to play a Test since returning from injury and hasn’t had any first-class practice for a month when he played Delhi's Ranji Trophy opener. He had match figures of 36-3-129-3.

Dinda has played three Ranji Trophy matches in November from which he has taken seven wickets, five of them Bengal's most recent match which ended on the 20th. Nothing special, but more match practice under the belt than Ishant has managed bowling in the nets and warming the bench in Ahmedabad and Mumbai.

Certainty England's batsmen need to be asked some different questions and Dinda might just be the man to ask them. He knows his home ground well and can offer the surprise element to England. He's not express pace and cannot get the lift that Ishant can, but India need to shake it up. Handing a Test debut to one of the most hard-working and consistently pace bowlers on the domestic circuit may be the spark India so desperately need.

3. Forget about the pitch

Before the Mumbai Test, there was plenty of focus on how the Wankhede pitch would play. After a run-laden surface in Ahmedabad, Dhoni called for a turning track in Mumbai. He got it, and we all know what happened next. A week before the third Test, Dhoni again called on the pitch staff at the Eden Gardens to prepare another turning surface. It elicited criticism from Prabir Mukherjee, the Eden Gardens curator, who termed it “immoral” and even asked for a month’s leave. The 83-year-old Mukherjee was pacified as the Cricket Association of Bengal convinced him to come back to work.

Here's some advice, India: forget about the nature of the wicket, just play good cricket. England didn't worry about how much the Wankhede pitch would turn. Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann just came out and used their brains to comprehensively outbowl their Indian counterparts - three of them, no loss - 19 wickets to nine. Even if the Eden Gardens throws up another square-turner, do India have the arsenal to trouble England?

They would be better placed correcting their on-field cricket rather than engaging in arguments over the nature of pitches. Spin has traditionally been India's strength, and two big wins over South Africa came on turning track at Kanpur in 2008 and Eden Gardens in 2010. But times have changed, and relying on tradition and history when your current crop of spinners aren't as potent as their previous brand doesn't isn’t the way forward.

4. Think about better times

It seems a long time ago, but India were No. 1 in the Test rankings for nearly 18 months. When they played in Kolkata back in February 2010, their top ranking was on the line after a drubbing at the hands of South Africa in Nagpur. Stirringly, Dhoni's team hit back with an innings victory to keep their ranking and draw the series. They must remember times like that.

India do not lose much at home – just seven times in the last decade, in fact - and they maintained a strong record during that time by playing good cricket. Now the time has come to recollect their strengths and get each of the playing XI to make a contribution at the Eden Gardens. Defeat will bring changes to the squad for the final Test, so it is high time the players play well beyond expectations and put India ahead.

5. Block the Tendulkar issue out of the mind

Tendulkar, who recently completed 23 years of international cricket, has been criticized for a continued poor run in Test cricket. He has failed to reach 30 in his last six Test innings, and four of his last five dismissals have been bowled. The 39-year-old has been visibly uncomfortable against both fast men and spinners in his last few Tests, getting dismissed to deliveries which he would have sent to the boundary with ease in his heydays. The issue has almost reached a crescendo, and former and current players have had mixed opinions on the maestro's wretched form. India would do well to not let the talk affect them. Easier said than done, of course, but it's the mind that often wins the physical battle.

Team Rankings

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 4027 115
2 New Zealand 2829 109
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3778 105
5 Australia 2640 98
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Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6745 125
2 India 7071 122
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 Australia 5543 111
5 South Africa 5193 110
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Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 India 8411 263
4 Australia 5471 261
5 South Africa 4407 259
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