Kadambari Murali looks at how the playing XI have done as they take on Sri Lanka before their third Test.cricket Updated: Aug 02, 2007 03:04 IST
He started this tour miserably and brought back memories of the failed 2002 tour to England. He was dropped after that but hasn’t put a foot wrong since making his international comeback a year ago. He’s a solid back-foot player, pace and bounce do not seem to faze him. Like most strong back-foot players, his problem area seemed to be his inability to play the swinging ball well. He has since proved that he’s improved on that front as well. He has stayed away from expansive drives off the front foot and stuck to his strengths. He’s left a lot of deliveries alone, especially the ones pitched up to him, and has punished the short balls with lazy flair.
He was supposed to be the weakest link in this strong Indian batting line-up. He is not a specialist opener and hasn’t opened regularly even for Tamil Nadu in first class cricket. But he proved everyone wrong with sheer grit and sound cricketing sense, dexterity and some decisive footwork. He’s a busy player, in the typical middle/lower middle order batsman mould, but has made the grade at the top ever since he’s been asked to open. He plays and misses a lot more than your regular opener but gets you runs in quick time. He’s always aware of scoring opportunities and rarely plays a ball without the intention of scoring runs.
He hasn’t fired so far, so India will be hoping he’ll get that big one at The Oval. If he goes through without a big contribution, it’ll be the second big miss in a row (after South Africa) for him in a decade. Questions will inevitably be asked — are India sacrificing their best Test batsman by burdening him with the captaincy? Was the lack of a full time coach a factor in his dip in form? Still, barring Lord’s, where he got out cheaply (and everyone has their off days), he has looked good at the crease. His not getting a big one at Trent Bridge was surprising as he rarely misses out once he gets a start. But a big one is due.
He started this tour in style, scoring two 90s against South Africa in Ireland and came into the Tests with a big knock against the Lions at Chelmsford. As happens so often with him, one failure (Lord’s) got everyone talking about his retirement. He replied by topping the Indian run charts in the second Test and was unlucky to miss out on a well deserved hundred. He played all the medium pacers on merit and didn’t allow Monty Panesar to settle down. He played him more with his bat and was different in the sense that he didn’t hesitate in coming down the track and hitting over the top (he doesn’t do that often in Tests). Perhaps he had a point to prove and if he did, he did it in style.
He has looked a different player ever since he made his comeback in South Africa last year, by displaying a willingness to fight out the tough phases in a game. He seems to have changed strategy by choosing to grind the opposition down rather than trying to hit out of his ‘discomfort zone’ (as he would often do before he was dropped). He has shown courage and character in playing the short pitched delivery aimed at his body and has come out grinning, instead of grimacing. His importance in the batting scheme of things might have people overlook his bowling, but he has not only taken a couple of important wickets, he has also kept the batsmen quiet.
He will probably go down as the cricketer who invariably played under pressure. It always seems like someone is waiting for him to fail in one series and put an end to his career. But as usual, Laxman allowed his bat to do the talking. He’s got starts in both Tests but has been guilty of not making it count. Like with Dravid, it’s unusual to see him not getting big runs after getting a start but he has looked in total control as long as he has been at the crease. Perhaps No. 6 isn’t the right number for him as batting with the tail generally requires someone more aggressive, both with the bat and in running between the wickets.
The maverick in this Indian team has been criticised for a lack of technique both in front of and behind the stumps. He might not have the best technique in coping with the swinging ball but he showed a lot of courage and a shrewd cricketing brain in the last innings at Lords. He was trying to win the game for a while but changed his approach when wickets fell at the other end. His keeping has come under severe scrutiny but people forget that England is probably the most difficult place to keep to medium pacers. The ball moves a lot more and dips after passing the batsman. Even keepers like Ian Healy have admitted it takes a while to adjust to English conditions.
He’s the warrior in the Indian team and someone who has taken a lot of wickets in seamer-friendly conditions. He is an aggressive bowler but has managed to curb his instincts from time to time to suit the team’s requirements. On more than a few occasions, he has been brought on to keep one end quiet so that pace bowlers can operate from the other. He has done that job adequately, if nothing else and has taken a couple of crucial wickets to get the momentum of the game to swing India’s way — Strauss and Collingwood at Lord’s, for instance. He’s also used his experience to beguile the English tail. It all helps.
He was a one-dimensional bowler when he started playing for India. He used to be quicker but didn’t really do enough with ball. When people got the hang of his away going delivery, he didn’t have much else on offer. But since his international comeback, he has started to swing the ball in the air and off the pitch. He has lost a bit of pace over the years but his new found swing more than makes up for it. He was the spearhead of an inexperienced bowling attack and rose to the occasion perfectly. Barring the first session at Lords, he has looked menacing and was instrumental in India’s win at Trent Bridge.
He found himself playing at Lord’s more by default than anything else. The other two pacemen on tour, Ranadeb Bose and Ishant Sharma, were showed to be out of their depth in the side games, so R.P. was then the obvious choice. He turned to be the surprise package with his five for in the second innings at Lords. He’s been somewhat erratic (performance-wise) in the four innings so far, but that could be inexperience. When he’s bowled within his limitations and swung the ball, he has looked threatening. His doing well was essential for India, as they would’ve struggled to bowl the opposition out twice with just Zaheer and Kumble. Overall, R.P. has done very well so far.
He was the pick of the bowlers in the South Africa Tests and as his bowling is tailor-made for English conditions, a lot was expected from Sreesanth. He relies on swing and likes to pitch the ball up and England provides the right conditions to do that. But apart from cleaning up England’s lower order in the first innings at Lord’s, he hasn’t done anything of note. Had India not won the second Test or if they had someone capable in the reserves, Sreesanth probably wouldn’t make the starting XI at The Oval. He has been a disappointment so far and unless he turns things around in the last Test, his English summer would be remembered only for the theatrics that got him fined and nothing else.