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India face crisis of confidence

Clearly, WI would be the predator in 1st Test starting today. Players unsure?

india Updated: Jun 02, 2006 05:13 IST

A bit of the gloss - some would say a lot - has worn off. From being record-breaking winners, in the mould of Clive Lloyd's Invincibles, the Indian cricket team today has been dented by its 1-4 one-day series loss to the West Indies. As the four-match Test series looms, it seems to be suffering a crisis of confidence.

Skipper Rahul Dravid will say that the two forms of the game are very different and the result of the one-dayers means nothing as far as the Test series, beginning at the Antigua Recreation Ground on Friday, is concerned. No one disputes that. Not even the West Indian skipper Brian Lara and coach Bennett King. It is a cricketing truism.

But the loss seems to have left scars, psychologically, and doubts have crept into a team that rode aggression and confidence superbly to mount victory after victory.

Most of the post-match conversations the team management has had with the press since the losses at Port of Spain indicate that it is more than worried about the successive batting failures, the failure to adjust to the conditions, the failure of its young guns and heroes of so many recent successes and, significantly, the absence of Sachin Tendulkar.

It appears the team management is having a rethink of its attacking five-bowler philosophy, which shows intent to force victory and has been the basis of its recent run of successes. Could it revert to the more defensive six-batsman, four-bowler format, with the emphasis on avoiding defeat?

Of course, on the surface the mantra is confidence. On Wednesday, Dravid said: "I'm very confident going into the series. It's a question of performing."

But scratch beneath the surface. He also said: "Performing... we haven't done that well in Tests recently."

That was with reference to the loss in the third Test against Pakistan, which led to a 0-1 series loss, and the loss to England, again in the third Test, which saw the series being tied 1-1. Both losses were the results of batting failures.

Among other things Dravid said:

-- "We need to get our batting going, put runs on the board and give the bowlers a chance."

-- "We've discussed a few things about team composition. Sachin is missing, may be we'll have one or two batsmen coming in."

-- "If we play a fifth bowler, it puts pressure on the batsmen and the wicketkeeper."

It is an interesting choice for the Indian think tank and perhaps instead of making a policy decision, it might just take a one-off decision, after seeing the wicket at the ARG Thursday. (It appeared to have a lot of grass on it and one of the groundstaff, when asked about how it would play, did not reply, but just raised his hand to his throat and shook his head menacingly.)

In contrast, there was no hint of doubt in the West Indian camp, which practised at the ARG on Wednesday. Even if they were not strutting and swaggering, you felt that they were just a step away from it.

And their confidence was reflected in the body language of coach King as he talked to newsmen. This was not the coach who had seen his team lose at home to South Africa in 2005 and draw with Pakistan, or be wiped out by Australia away. This was a coach sensing a home win.

It was with a sense of bravado that he said that though they won the one-day series, the performance was "a little below expectations". "The batting didn't reach the totals we had set and in bowling there were too many error balls."

Even when he said that India was a strong side, which had proved itself over a period of time, you felt that he was talking about one side (India) whose time was over and about another (West Indies) whose time had come.

Clearly the West Indies is going to be the predator in this first Test, if not the entire series. Will India be content to defend or go on a counter-offensive? The choice will determine whether India wins its first series in the Caribbean in 35 years.