Can India come back?

If they forget the nightmarish show and focus on their strength, India can still give a good fight, writes Atul Sondhi.

india Updated: Nov 24, 2006 23:14 IST

The easiest thing in the world right now is to criticize the 'thoughtless' experimentations of Guru Greg, his failure to look beyond the likes of Raina, and failure to recall tough and experienced guys like Sourav and Laxman.

Probably he is the one who decides who will go where, when and in which position.'Durban Drubbing' has given new ammunition to his detractors.

Indeed, it doesn't need a great brain to decipher that this Indian team is going through an extremely lean patch. Washout in West Indies after first ODI, Mauling in Malaysia and tame surrender in India is now well and thoroughly documented.

But the point is can the team recover.

The 2006 series against Pakistan and West Indies are clear indicator of how things can turn on their head. After winning the Test series and the first ODI, Pakistan were the favourite to sweep the February series but eventual result turned out to be 4-1 in India's favour.

Reverse happened in the West Indies four months later when India won the first match and the West Indies came roaring back to wrap the scoreline at 1-4.

In fact, in the last ODI series against South Africa, the trio of Ntini, Pollock and Nel had delivered the first blow in Hyderabad when they had reduced India to 35-5. It was the brilliance of Yuvraj (103) and Pathan (46) that helped India to a respectable total before the hosts lost by five wickets. If one cares to remember, India had twice come back strongly to level the series at 2-2.

There is no reason to believe that India cannot repeat its comeback feats. But, to deliver what most people consider improbable, they must bank on their strengths.

Pathan as batsman?

If Pathan is losing focus as a bowler, why not treat him just as a specialist batsman. After all, if we take the last series against South Africa, Pathan was the fifth highest in terms of averages. The Baroda youngster may have briefly lost out as bowler, but as batsman he continues to be valuable.

India vs South Africa
(November 2005, At least three innings)

 Player Innings No Runs Avg 100s/50s
 Yuvraj 4 1 209 69.66 1/1
 Sehwag 4 1 135 45.00 0/1
 Dravid 4 1 102 34.00 0/1
 Kaif 3 1 63 31.50 0/0
 Pathan 3 0 83 27.66 0/0

There have been instances in history when all rounders have been played as specialist batsmen. Imran Khan, down with injuries at one time, played just as batsman. Then why not Pathan? Especially with Raina so low on recent form and confidence.

Pathan, even if below par, can provide a reasonable fifth bowling option. In his last five innings, Raina has managed just 62 runs at an average of 12.2 - not good enough for a secure place against a team like South Africa in their own den.

Makeshift bowlers

The first match once again has underlined the importance of batsmen who can bowl.

Tendulkar, with an economy of 3.66 from nine overs was the most economical of Indian bowlers and Dinesh Mongia just gave 16 runs off his 4 overs while scalping de Villiers. That wicket was crucial towards restricting Proteas to a manageable total.

These bowlers are going to be very critical if India are to give a semblance of challenge to this great South African side. In fact, in the last series between the two sides, Sehwag was the third highest wicket-taker along with Agarkar, with three apiece. These bowlers will surely increase India's options.

Dravid, Tendulkar duo

When Dravid and Tendulkar were going strong, a fellow scribe jocularly remarked that all Indian hopes now rest on this ''last'' recognized pair. How prophetic it turned out to be in the end with India losing last eight wickets for just 29 runs.

But heartening thing is that even during their brief stay, the two batsmen looked confidence personified. They were soundly beaten once in a while, but did not let it affect their play till they fell. One will hope that these two pillars of Indian batting go on to carry the confidence of their brief knocks, and not the collective despair of 91 all out to their next matches. The return of Sehwag should give further boost to India's hopes.

Middle overs

India must find a way to restrict the South Africans in the middle overs. Initial breakthroughs are good, but good only as long as middle order is strangulated. That never happened to the 4th wicket partnership of de Villiers and Kallis. If we see the 87 run partnership progress of Kallis and de Villiers, the first twenty runs came of just 28 balls at a Strike-rate of 71.42.

With a team reeling at 63-3 with batsmen like Smith and Gibbs back in pavilion, these two batsmen should not have been allowed to get away with singles. That gave them tremendous confidence, and eventual victory.

Harbhajan: His bowling may have been a big letdown in the first Test, but the second highest wicket-taker from India and its most economical bowler in 2005 series can never be taken lightly. Against the same set of destructive players last year, he gave 3.4 runs per over while scalping 5 wickets, just one less than Irfan.

One will hope that the turbunator clicks again. Like he did in the last series. India must also play Irfan, simply because they haveno other genuine all rounder.

It is time for Indian batsmen to measure up to the challenge. Bowlers did their job in restricting South Africa to a manageable total. But the disturbing fact was the apparent unwillingness some batsmen-on-trial to apply themselves.

Most Indians are resigned to losing to Proteas considering our recent streak and history in South Africa. So that pressure of losing is certainly not there! But the cricket-crazy Indians do deserve a semblance of fight from their heroes - the ones they have been worshipping for so many years.

First Published: Nov 24, 2006 17:37 IST