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At 'home' India on backfoot

Indians are feeling the heat now, writes Atreyo Mukhopadhyay. What's wrong?

india Updated: May 28, 2006 01:21 IST

Some of the most memorable moments in Indian cricket are associated with the Queen’s Park Oval. Starting with the historic Test victory in 1971 to the famous win in 1976 chasing 400-plus in the fourth innings, there are many instances of Indians shining under the Trinidad sun over the years.

There are other things to make an Indian feel at home in this country. Close to 40 per cent of its population has roots in India, there are Hindi words in the English spoken here, Diwali is a national holiday and so is the Indian Arrival Day-- May 30-- commemorating the arrival of the first indentured labourers from India in 1845.

Needless to say, life for the labourers then was hardly as sweet as what it turned out to be for the various Indian teams over a century later. Ironically, coming back to the present, things will turn just as bad for Rahul Dravid’s team unless they make it two out of two against a rejuvenated home side.

Their first test comes on Friday and the second on Sunday and, after reaching the capital of this nation consisting of Trinidad, Tobago and 21 other smaller islands on a 6 am flight from St Kitts on Wednesday, Greg Chappell took his team out for fielding practice and some physical workouts in the afternoon.

It showed just how aware the Indians are of the fact that another slip would mean a huge loss of face, if nothing else. A seemingly endless streak of defeats over the last few years-- the Champions Trophy triumph in 2004 being an exception-- had sucked out the last hope from even the staunchest of West Indies supporters.

Two last-gasp victories, however, have suddenly changed things and it’s the Indians who are feeling the heat. Public memory is short and one more defeat will nullify the good work they have done in the shorter version of the game in the last few months, just like these victories had overshadowed some shameful performances in Tests.

The situation is challenging now because the Indians are not facing a team low on talent. It’s just that these players had rarely shown the discipline and application to match superior teams and hold their nerves under pressure. Two close wins can work wonders in terms of injecting confidence and the West Indies are no more the underdogs.

Virender Sehwag’s return to form comes as a ray of hope for the Indians. His exploits can cover up for the frailties deeper down the order although that was not the case in the third match. The team will also desperately want Yuvraj Singh back, which is likely considering he was present at Wednesday’s training session.

Even if these two click, India will still need a big total to re-establish their status as a batting superpower. It may be unfair to undermine their potential as a batting unit following two failures after a sequence of 17 straight wins chasing, but again, in most of these games, there were just one or two players as catalysts.

It may also be imprudent to talk only about batting, but one-day game is generally more about batsmen. The pitch here is not expected to assist those who specialise in fast bowling but the visitors are unlikely to deviate from the ploy of using three of them.

The West Indian batting line-up is strong on paper and lived up to that image in the first and third games, but have not looked at ease against spin and it would have been interesting to see them tackle the part-time slow stuff from Sehwag and Yuvraj.

As Chappell says, a process is in place that is to be continued irrespective of the odd blip. Looking back, his theory has to be accepted, but as far as looking ahead goes, fingers are still crossed.

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