Here it is again — another must win game. When the Indians last arrived at the Oval four weeks ago, they had a 1-0 lead in the Test series, things were looking good and they were on a high.
Twenty-one days after celebrating their first Test series win in England in over two decades, the men in blue returned to the ground on Tuesday, on the eve of the penultimate NatWest series ODI, in a completely different frame of mind.
They are now in a desperate, must-win situation with the seven-match series 3-2 in the hosts’ favour.
If skipper Rahul Dravid is to be believed, they are keen “to finish the tour by playing some good cricket”.
But they don’t have to play just good cricket to win the series here, they have to raise the bar and play great cricket. And on a wicket tailormade for batting, India would be counting on their batsmen to repeat their performance of Sunday at Leeds.
Going in with an additional batsman, riding on Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir’s half-centuries, India scored 324 for eight to more or less bat England out of the game.
On Wednesday, India are likely to retain Gambhir and go in with four bowlers, but things could get sticky if they lose an early wicket. From that viewpoint, it would logically be better if either Dravid or Yuvraj, both in excellent form, walk in at No 3 instead of Gambhir (in and out of the XI) or Karthik (lacklustre in the ODIs and who might be dropped for RP Singh if they play five bowlers).
Ahead of the Leeds game, Dravid had said he could consider coming in at 3 if need be. On Tuesday, however, he said they would take a final decision about the XI on Wednesday morning.
“I have been talking about it before and after every match in this series so far,” he said. “Going in with six batsmen or with four bowlers will be decided before the match.”
But India are unlikely to go in with a batsman short, especially when Dravid also admitted that batting was their “strength”.
Injury problems for England
England, meanwhile, have to sort out their walking wounded and then plan their strategy for Wednesday. Chris Tremlett, who was ruled out of Sunday’ match due to a sore foot and Ravi Bopara, who fractured his thumb during the last game, have been ruled out.
What is worse is that Andrew Flintoff, who missed the last game with a sore left ankle, will probably be benched again. Though Flintoff did everything apart from bowl in England’s practice session on Tuesday, the England team management might not like to take a chance on their star allrounder.
As a result, they have called up opener Luke Wright, who joined the squad on Tuesday. The attacking right-handed batsman scored an impressive 56 off 40 balls for the England Lions against the Indians three days before the first one-dayer.
They would also be happy that Ryan Sidebottom, who missed the first five ODIs with a side strain, is available for Wednesday.