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Now or never, twice over

The narrow loss in Hyderabad pushed India on to the backfoot in the seven-match series as Australia took a 3-2 lead. Psychologically, the pressure is on the home team as they need to win the remaining two games to stop the visitors from clinching the series, reports Atreyo Mukhopadhyay.

cricket Updated: Nov 07, 2009 23:42 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

The complexion of the series has changed, and with it, the terrain. After five matches in the plains, the hills surrounding Guwahati were prominently visible from the aircraft and the sight was symbolic to the task awaiting India — an uphill one. The margin for error is down to zero and it's now or never twice over.

The injured Kangaroos have displayed the vehemence of a wounded tiger to snatch a 3-2 lead from being 1-2 down and M.S. Dhoni's men, who believe they can be the best, have to be just that on Sunday and Wednesday when the caravan descends to maritime Mumbai.

The pitch at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium is unlikely to be different from the strips seen this series barring the track in Delhi, but conditions for batting in the first half could change. With an eye on the early sunset and this being a day match, the start has been scheduled at 8.30 am which might increase the importance of the toss.

Michael Hussey said that it would be a “good toss to lose”, while Dhoni said he was yet to decide what he would prefer if the coin rolls his way. The morning dew might alter equations and with it, strategies.

One reason why India are in this position is the lack of consistency in batting. All the regulars except for Virender Sehwag have gone past 50 at least once, but they have also shown a tendency to lose quick wickets in the middle which probably cost them the last two games. That many of those wickets went to bowlers who are here as replacements should hurt the pride of players who think they are as good as anybody in the world.

Such belief is borne out by the past performance of more or less the same team. Just that India have lost a few key moments in this series. They lost a few wickets when they couldn’t afford to, failed to break partnerships when they had to and most irritatingly, committed basic errors while fielding.

Dhoni, responsible for some of those mistakes, was sincere enough to admit after the three-run heartbreak in the fifth game that poor fielding was a factor and that it makes a big difference in close games. Having sacked fielding coach Robin Singh before this series, this has been an area of concern. Maybe coincidental, but it’s visible.

Having said that, it’s just one area of improvement, as Dhoni pointed out after Saturday's practice session, which Sehwag skipped. He said lessons had been learnt and it’s a question of putting them in practice. Easier said than done? We'll know on Sunday.