Time for young guns to devise ways for fightback at The Oval

  • Sanjjeev K Samyal, Hindustan Times, London
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  • Updated: Aug 15, 2014 02:23 IST

In the county circuit, everyone knows how lethal James Anderson's outswingers are. Still, what batsmen dread is the bowler starting to get his inswingers right. It then becomes almost impossible to pick him, they say.

During Wednesday's practice, the banana inswingers were coming out of his hand with masterly precision. Anderson has been at the top of his game in the last two Tests and will have extra motivation to do well at The Oval.

To pass Ian Botham's Test tally of 383 - he is England's highest wicket-taker - Anderson needs eight more wickets. With England not playing another Test for a long time, Anderson will go all out.

Their confidence already rattled, it's not good news for India. Add to it, the conditions will be to the pace bowlers' liking.

India's batting doesn't evoke much confidence mainly because their two main batsmen - Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara - are struggling. They came here with big reputations but have been unable to show their mettle in English conditions. The fifth and final Test starting on Friday will be their last chance to show they can master any condition and attack.

For Kohli, it's become technical. Experts feel he is opening up against outswingers. It's about keeping hands close to the body and getting your weight on top of the ball with positive footwork. But there is no time to work on shortcomings on a cramped tour. Pujara has not been able to convert starts into big scores.

Personal ambitions apart, the duo has the bigger responsibility of putting runs on the board for their team. Given their thin bowling resources, the model for India teams has been to back their bowlers with huge totals. England used this formula successfully to regain momentum in the third Test at Southampton.

To pull themselves out of the rut, Pujara and Kohli will do well to study the MS Dhoni model. The skipper doesn't have the technique to survive in these seaming conditions, yet when faced with the liveliest of wickets at Old Trafford, he adapted remarkably to prove that there is more to batting than technique.

Kohli too needs to figure out a way to deal with deliveries pitched in the good length area. For Pujara, it seems to be a case of keeping focus while trying to shift gears.

Kohli has his captain's backing though. "It's important for Kohli to remain positive. If he can score runs in Australia or South Africa, there's no reason why he can't score runs in English conditions.

"You need to assess what you are doing differently or what bowlers are making you do differently. It's always that cat-and-mouse game. If a bowler wants to bowl a particular line or do a particular thing, as a batsman you would like to avoid it, you would want (him) to bowl at your areas.

"Virat is batting well but not with the desired amount of runs. But he has been middling the ball in the nets and we have seen glimpses of that in the Test innings he has played here. He needs to back himself and make sure he is not getting into areas where he is vulnerable."

India have also failed to get the opening partnership going. In four matches, there has not been a single fifty partnership. In the first two Tests, Murali Vijay anchored one end but his performances have tapered off.

Shikhar Dhawan was dropped after a highest score of 37 in the first three Tests.

For Gautam Gambhir, to make an impact straightaway after sitting out for more than a month is not easy.

However, if India are to take something out of this series, the top-order will have to set the tone.


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