England v India, 2nd npower Test, Trent Bridge July 28, 2011

Time for India's batting 'attack' to hunt in a pack

At Trent Bridge, before the openers set off into the sunlight, India's bowlers would well do to give all the batsmen a stern talking-to about the benefits of adopting a pack mentality

It could have been the promo for a long-awaited Bollywood blockbuster set for Friday release. "A chance for someone to become a hero." Actually, it was MS Dhoni talking about the prospect of fielding a bowling attack without the man who, without doubt, has been pivotal in putting the number one into India's Test ranking.

On the eve of the second Test against England, Zaheer Khan's absence is the loudest piece of news and lamentation; it could well get overtaken by developments in Gautam Gambhir's left elbow on Thursday night. Zaheer turned up for light training this afternoon; Gambhir, elbow strapped, batted for ten minutes, then repeatedly flexed his arm and was later stretched by the physio. At the moment, Dhoni's team needs heroes in spades.

It is proclaimed that most of India's woes, regardless of format, mostly regardless of opposition, revolve around its bowling; their lack of express pace, the predictable slowing down of all young tyros, the orthopaedics-encyclopaedia injury list across its ranks and the absence of a new mystery spinner.

Lord's though was not a failure that could be distilled down to India's thin bowling; it was a game that was India's for the saving, with five wickets left at tea on the final evening. It is not as if India did not have the personnel capable of doing so. Or that they were without recent experience of having done exactly that. yet they were unable string their presence together into the score they needed.

At Trent Bridge, before the openers set off into the sunlight, India's bowlers would well do to give all the batsmen a stern talking-to about the benefits of adopting a pack mentality. If bowling in a pack is dinned to death in changing rooms, batting in a pack is about the ability to get partnerships to weigh down on the opposition; squeezing every last run out of even unfavourable batting conditions.

At Lord's, after Abhinav Mukund's departure, Rahul Dravid was the only one among nine batsmen to go past 35 in the first innings, the lead of 188 serving as a handy buffer to seize control of the game. England won by 196 runs. In the second innings, chasing 458 in the best batting conditions of the game, everyone in India's top eight went into double figures with no one grinding out. That England dismissed India twice well within 300 is as much a reflection on England's discipline as it is on the Indian batting's lack of it at Lord's.

At Trent Bridge, it is the batsmen, more than the much-maligned bowlers, who must find technical composure and mental rhythm. In a video interview after Lord's, VVS Laxman summed up what the Indians are thinking. "I wouldn't give too much of importance or hype to the way the English bowlers bowled (at Lord's). They bowled in good areas and they got the rewards. But saying that, it was not really an exceptional bowling attack where they ran through our batting attack."

Laxman's choice of the word 'attack' to describe India's batting is the method that he and his team-mates will need to employ in conditions that, while favouring the quicks, have always managed to draw out India's excellence on their previous two tours. A fourth-innings target closer to 260-270, Laxman said, in his gracious, non-chest-thumping manner, "we would have got easily."

Hypothetical calculations, however, mean little when the series scoreline reads 0-1. Laxman was talking about the absence of a third bowler to take advantage of England's 5-62 in the second innings. The only reality India can now practically address is that their batsmen have to lead the charge for parity. When asked what exactly acted as a spur for teams to pick themselves up after a poor opening, England captain Andrew Strauss said of his own experience, "When you have lost the Test before, there is a great feeling in your camp that you want to prove that you are better than what you showed in the last match. It is a big motivating factor ... They (India) will want to prove they are better than what they have shown last week."

More than want, India's batting certainly needs to do precisely so at Trent Bridge. The mental strength and improvement that Dhoni spoke of as being the reason the Indians have bounced back from poor starts recently must quickly find demonstration on the Trent Bridge scoreboard. India have won more overseas Tests in the last decade than in the previous 70 years not because their bowling has suddenly turned gone turbo, everyone bowls at 140kph and no bowler ever gets hurt. It is because the weight of their batting has been enough for even their most unheralded bowlers to take down the best of their opposition.

As compared to the fuss around it is Gambhir's scenario that has complicated India's options further. Should he be out of the game, India's batting must quickly find new order and balance which was missing at Lord's - and an opener as well. Gambhir's most logical replacement, if not as opener, should by conventional logic be Yuvraj Singh, left-hand batsman and professional pie-chucker. It will mean that India must once again go in with a scratch opening pair. (Unless Virender Sehwag were to suddenly dash through the Trent Bridge gates a minute before Dhoni goes out to toss. As it is, he is due to arrive in these parts any time now.)

Picking a substitute for Zaheer is curiously far less contentious or difficult, despite existing skill-deficits. Sreesanth it should be, even though he is no winner in the popularity stakes with his captain and is as likely to turn up ticking sweetly as a wristwatch put together by a reality TV star. Yet, Dhoni believes everything that could go wrong at Lord's, did go wrong and new heroes must come forward; it is just the opportunity for Sreesanth to dive into the second Test, with bared teeth, flying hair and more importantly for India, all limbs functioning smoothly.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ayan on July 29, 2011, 17:02 GMT

    Indian batsmen need to play out of their skin and comfort zone if India is thinking about seriously protecting their World No. 1 ranking in Test Cricket. England's batting is average but their bowlers especially Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann can wield the willow. So its the best opportunity for Indian Batsmen to show their true CLASS. VVS Laxman is yet to score a century against England.

  • P on July 29, 2011, 16:39 GMT

    what about dhoni's wicketkeeping, field placing & captaincy. if he had put a forward shortleg to pieterson there would be no double hundred. see the margin of victory. thats what made the difference.

  • Philip on July 29, 2011, 9:57 GMT

    Well their bowlers can't so some group will have to.

  • Sagar on July 29, 2011, 9:48 GMT

    No Zaheer - so let sreesanth comin - Sehwag blossomed as an opener.. since he is in y not yuvraj?.. he can play the same n make a name..

  • Martin on July 29, 2011, 9:32 GMT

    Hi @HatsforBats! The Indians have completely underestimated the challenge here in England. They are here with an unfit injured unprepared team. There is an overweening lazy arrogance about this approach which Laxman exemplifies when he makes those claims about England bowlers. The evidence of Lords does not support his claim - and he was guilty as charged. It looks for all the world as if India are just not taking this seriously. Maybe indias batsmen will fire, and if they do I'll be the first one to come on here to commend it. But England bowlers choked off the Aussie batsmen on their home pitches and I've seen nothing from the indian batsmen so far to really suggest that they can do any better against England bowling even on that beautiful flat Lords pitch in hot sunshine. PS - I had a drink for you at Lords, more than one actually..... :-)

  • Rajveer on July 29, 2011, 9:31 GMT

    That is exactly what I have written in one of my comments in one of the articles.... England's bowling wasn't extra ordinary..rather India played extra ordinarily- ordinary to make it look that way... Hope they can rectify it this time..

  • Mathew on July 29, 2011, 9:16 GMT

    Sreesanth, my dear fellow. I am gonna bet some money on you to be the man of the match. I am confident that you can do it. You have the skill and the strength. Just keep up the discipline in line and length. We need you to.

  • John on July 29, 2011, 8:41 GMT

    I never understand coaches and journalists who talk about the importance of 'building partnerships' as if they are providing some brilliantly nuanced insight into the inner workings of the game. Building partnerships is dependent on one factor - batsmen not getting out. Surely batsmen at international level don't need to be told that they should try to avoid dismissal?

  • Dummy4 on July 29, 2011, 8:34 GMT

    On paper, without zaheer and gambhir, england look by far the better side. There is no question that their bowling is better but now it looks as if their batting is a lot better as well. With bresnan in the side, they bat down to number 10, and cook, trott and peiterson are in great form... doesn't really look good for the indians.

  • ian on July 29, 2011, 8:27 GMT

    India failed to bowl England out twice at Lord's yet England not only took 20 wickets, but dropped five catches and had a couple of shocking ump decisions go against them. So, well done, VVS, calling them "not really an exceptional bowling attack." This is just the sort of call that England will respond to! Flower might well pin it up in the dressing room to depress the England bowlers - Ha! For a great batsman of the recent past, he doesn't do humility, does he? Disrespecting your opponents is a dangerous game! As for batsmen hunting as a pack, it has always been a mantra of the greatest sides that bowlers win matches (backed by excellent fielding). India doesn't really bother too much with bowling or fielding. The pack mataphor is more appropriate to bowlers than batsmen. And England's attack (i.e. the bowlers!) DO hunt as a pack! India's bowlers will probably lose focus at some stage and any good work done can be lost as tiredness, through lack of fitness, sets in!

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