India’s massive 664 in the first innings was exactly what the doctor ordered. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was instrumental in setting up a platform from where India can take the game away from England.
Though Kumble did a great job, for me, the man of the day was Dhoni, because I’m not a great believer in statistics.
It was also good to see VVS Laxman play his natural game rather than scratch around. Even though he was dismissed when he was looking good for plenty, he had set the tempo for the Indians with his fluency in the first hour.
Still, Sachin Tendulkar, who kept going, Dhoni and Anil Kumble have, together, set the team towards a target, which could very well put the game beyond England's reach. Tendulkar arrived at a time when another wicket could have nullified the good start to the day. He stayed put and didn't flinch when the blows rained down on his body on the first evening.
England's frustration is growing by the minute. Could they have done something different? I doubt, since the conditions didn’t favour them. They lost the toss, the pitch and the outfield were overtly in favour of the batsmen, and Indians were a resolute bunch. Once the openers laid the base, the momentum was quickly carried forward by the rest.
Strange things have happened at the Oval in the past so all who are already writing about an Indian victory or an inevitable draw, my advice is to hold on for the time being. Things tend to move quickly here in the last couple of days when the spinners come into their own. Both Monty Panesar and Anil Kumble haven’t yet played a part and this could be their moment.
It will be interesting to see India’s approach to this game. They have piled on the runs and if England can do the same, the tourists’ approach in the second innings would be interesting.
Would they look to outbat England or prefer to set a challenging target to the hosts? Would occupation of crease and not scoring briskly be their priority ?
I ask these questions because at least twice in recent memory, a diffident, timid approach has cost the team dear.
In Bangalore in 2005 when India, one-up in the series, suddenly opted for dour defence against Pakistan. Over after over was played with dead bats and suddenly the Pakistani fielders and bowlers found a spring in their steps. India lost the match on the final day.
The act was repeated at Cape Town last winter. India needed to bat normally on the fourth afternoon in order to swell their lead but chose to retreat in their shells.
Suddenly a couple of wickets, and South Africa had tasted the blood. The target set in the end was competitive, but not overwhelming. SA duly reached it on the final day. Thus it would interest me to see how India choose to bat in the second innings.
They have played tough, hard cricket on this tour and that's the way they should end it also. The series is in India’s grasp. Just a few more sessions and a rare series win would be theirs. Only timidity can cost them dear.