England v India, 4th npower Test, The Oval August 17, 2011

India's last chance to turn up

Though India lacked the aura of the No. 1 teams of the past, they had the resilience and results. After the first three Tests in England, nothing remains

As far as world's No. 1 teams went, India were distinctive because they never really had an aura. In their two-odd years on top, India neither walked the talk like the West Indians of the 1980s and the 90s, nor did they talk the walk like the Australians who followed them. They were never the world's most athletic Test team nor one that possessed a sharp pace attack. India were more men of specific skill and deliberate measure and taken lightly only by the delusionally arrogant. While they didn't have an aura, what they did have though was resilience and results.

As of last week, India have none of it. The series against England is gone, the Pataudi Trophy is gone, their No. 1 ranking that they said they did not think about, is gone, and the "good cricket" that took them there is gone with it. For the moment, the Indian cricket team is living in every athlete's nightmare: being seen as yesterday's person.

At their first day of training after losing ground they had earned over two years, the Indians stepped onto the Kennington Oval in South London, now called the Kia Oval, after a Korean car company; the word Kia roughly meaning "arising from Asia" in Korean. On this tour, however, the Indians have not risen, but fallen. Once in The Oval today though, they just vanished. From the sight of people gathered near the old pavilion jammed in-between the old gasworks, the new arch, a clutter of advertising hoardings and empty seats. The team was actually on the far side of the ground, hidden by the billowing pitch covers on wheels. They sat in a circle, most of them cross-legged and listened to the coach Duncan Fletcher speak.

It is not known what Fletcher actually said in the talk that lasted about ten minutes, as the rest of the support staff stood by at the nets waiting for the nuts-and-bolts business to begin. The Indian dressing room in the past few years has been a fairly quiet and relaxed place with captain MS Dhoni playing the strong-but-silent man and the support staff, particularly Fletcher's predecessor Gary Kirsten and his assistant Paddy Upton being the ones behind the motivational speeches and one-on-ones. The focus in the Dhoni-Kirsten era was more on "personal responsibility" with the aim of turning every man into a self-starter when it came to training and preparation, introducing the idea of frequent "optional" nets and eventually making everyone, "better players and better people." The method was in perfect sync with the team and the time that Indian cricket found itself in; the results that followed after the last tour of England (under five captains in three forms of the game no less) and just before this one were far from illusion, but magic all the same.

On this tour, much of it has worn off and a re-tooling is now required by Dhoni, Fletcher and the squad's senior management team. The nets at The Oval on Tuesday were, however, optional and barring Praveen Kumar, every other member of the team turned up, including RP Singh, who India will turn to as the singular trump card to prevent the deck from once again collapsing. India's two previous tries - Sreesanth replacing the injured Zaheer Khan at Trent Bridge and Virender Sehwag returning to open the batting in Edgbaston - have not worked. That Praveen, the most military of the medium pacers, is being hailed as the centre-piece of India's bowling effort is a tale itself.

As every Test of the series has become shorter - Lord's went into the fifth day, and Trent Bridge and Edgbaston ended around tea on the fourth day, one after and one before - it is the desperation of the Indian response that has increased. This is the first time since Australia in 1999-2000 that India have lost three straight Tests; the big difference being that the quality available to the Class of 2011 is far more skilled than what was available then, both in experience and expertise.

And still, the succession of defeats and the numbers on the scorecards have left the dressing room even quieter. When being told that everyone at home was wondering about where their fight had gone, a player said, "We are fighting, we are trying. Everyone is, everyone wants to succeed. Things just aren't working out." The opposition has been so well-tuned that India's resources, or perhaps, as the talk is about fighting, the weapons, are blunted. They are all amplified by scheduling errors, injuries to key personnel and the lack of cohesion around the squad once the World Cup was won and the IPL dived right into.

The series against England is gone, the Pataudi Trophy is gone, their No. 1 ranking that they said they did not think about, is gone, and the "good cricket" that took them there is gone with it. For the moment, the Indian cricket team is living in every athlete's nightmare: being seen as yesterday's person

England spinner Graeme Swann said on Tuesday, "Certainly the break that India had from Test cricket worked in our favour. Since we had English conditions playing Sri Lanka building up to this series, it was a chance for everyone to just get ready and raring. Whereas India had those two matches in the West Indies where it was 100 degrees and not swinging."

Swann also described what the temperatures in the two dressing rooms would be like. "When you're on a roll, like we seem to be at the moment, it's very easy to carry that on - because your confidence levels are so high, your confidence levels in your team-mates are so high, you never feel like you are behind the eight-ball. You never feel you're in a position you can't win a game from." When things were going badly, what spread was a virus of a different kind. "We all know because we've all been in teams that were in a bit of a bad trot [and] losing games. In a losing situation, [when the shoe is on the other] foot you think, 'Oh my, we are losing this game, we're in a no-win situation'."

India's is that kind of a slump, and The Oval is a no-win situation because the series is not on the line; what is however, are questions about the resolve of Dhoni's men. Swann was quick to say, "I certainly wouldn't write off the Indian team because they are a class act and if this wicket is good for batting as it normally is, we have to be absolutely on top our game to keep them under 300."

Among many other things, England's batsmen have been given one simple dictum to work with, as Ian Bell revealed in a recent interview. They are not to think of themselves merely as batsmen, but also quite simply just numbers-men. In an England dressing room under Andy Flower and Graham Gooch, "you're not so much a batsman" Bell said, "as a run-scorer". This is the last chance for India's to land up

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Prashant on August 19, 2011, 14:26 GMT

    Patience my dear Indian fans, patience. We'll have our revenge very soon. Everything goes a full circle however impossible it might seem at one stage. Example: England defeating Australia last year considering how abysmal they were in 2007 with a 5-0 whitewash. At that time it looked like Bermuda would complete a whitewash against England and it would take maybe 347 years before England can come up with a half decent side that can give an U-19 Zimbabwe team a run for their money. But they recovered. And spectacularly. Give them credit. But team India, nurture this humiliation towards developing your cricket. And hit back with great vengeance!

  • Fawad on August 19, 2011, 9:46 GMT

    Before this series started, I saw an add on star cricket in which an indian told an englishmen that sachin, sehwag and gambhir will shut him up after he said that indians were unable to defeat england in worldcup. Just after the first two days of the first test I haven't seen that add played anymore.

  • Martin on August 19, 2011, 9:29 GMT

    @Lefty84; your comments look reasonable at first glance - but at second glance they are just the same as many of the other India fans here tying to save face. All these great players you mention - why are they not here in England? and why have I never heard of them? What you are saying is no different to the rest; "we have these great players back in India - they are our secret weapons and they will thrash you". Ok, if you say so. And what about the "Great" players that are here getting an absolute thrashing? Why are they getting thrashed? They aren't good enough, that's why. You can continue to believe what you like @lefty84 - but the evidence on the ground here is that india have no strength in depth, no secret weapons. They can't field. Indian batsmen might be ok on flat tracks - but then, so am I. What I believe is that England batsmen are SIGNIFICANTLY better than Indian batsmen. Don't believe me? Check this tours stats. I also believe that India can't bowl England out, ANYWHERE.

  • Chris on August 18, 2011, 14:27 GMT

    @Nishils - everybody forgets that "England are playing at home with a full strength side" because they weren't - we lost our best bowler of the summer after the first test, statistically our best batsman during the second. The difference being that we have depth. @abhiyog - England won 2-0 in Bang 18 months ago - we now have a better team and when we next come to India you'll have a worse one - we certainly won't get whitewashed like you are over here (note I'm not predicting us whitewashing you, as the arrogant India fans were before the start of this series).

  • Steve on August 18, 2011, 12:10 GMT

    Ind haven't made any changes that should forecast a different result in the 4th test. It's pretty much the same team that was mauled in 3rd test. Expecting RP to change India's fortunes coming out of cold is just unrealistic.

  • Dummy4 on August 18, 2011, 9:13 GMT

    @abhiyog - don't be daft, bangladesh can't even beat Zimbabwe - although to be fair to Zim they did really well in both the test match and ODI series. We will see. The last series in India we got Sehwag'd by his 68 ball 83. Strauss's twin hundreds and the discovery of Graham Swann had you reeling in that match until Sehwag's knock, and the series was coming England's way until then. Besides, it's 2012 when we come over there. Will the likes of Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman hung up their bats by then? And what if Zaheer Khan never recovers from his injuries? Face it mate, your team is in tatters, you have decent batsman, like Badrinath, Kohli, Vijay and Rohit Sharma to call upon. Mishra, Chawla and Ojha are average spinners. Kumar is awesome, but he needs support. Sharma and Sreesanth look overawed by England on the whole. The next best seamer you can offer is RP Singh after that. India is always a tough place to go, but it'll be India the country, not the team, which challenges us

  • Dummy4 on August 18, 2011, 8:30 GMT

    yes,,india can save this match....we will see

  • Dummy4 on August 18, 2011, 8:26 GMT

    In this match R.P.Singh must play. England team do struggle against Left arm swing bowling. Mukund should play in place of Raina either in the middle or in the top. Sehwag should play in the middle of the order for this match. I would like to see Laxman play just above M.S.Dhoni. India should see that this match is not lost and give a chance for England to win 4-0.. COMMON INDIA COMMON Jago.. I am sure Sachin will get into top grew in this match..

  • vimal on August 18, 2011, 8:21 GMT

    Please Indians: Don't go on and on about ENGLAND cannot win in India! THAT IS NOT THE POINT!!!!!!! you were all saying India will thrash England now you are saying India will thrash them @ home!! Can we not just accept the fact they won convincingly and deservingly.When the series against India IN INDIA starts then start ranting over about how they can never win us at home.....this is just BAD BAD BAD chat!!!! " oh we lost but u cant win against us at home!" -who caresssssss nowwww???????? play the last TEST support india and hopefully we will the ODI's that is what is important!

  • Abhijith on August 18, 2011, 7:27 GMT

    England fans thinking about beating India in India, dats never gonna happen , Because before that there is SL tour where their true class will be exposed by Mendis and Co, then when they come to India where Bhajji,Ashwin , Ojha will destroy them in turners. Not just India even if Bangladesh prepare square turners , England can at best draw a series.

  • No featured comments at the moment.