India draw breath between Tests
From the frying pan of Trent Bridge, where they prevailed in a feverish Test, India's cricketers have landed in an easy-chair at Grace Road. In an eight-day gap between Tests, almost a luxury in modern times, they take on Sri Lanka A who are coming towards the end of a highly satisfying England tour.
The post-match celebrations have been relatively muted compared to those following away triumphs in the past. Several players have spent time with their wives on tour and there hasn't been a united we-stuffed-them kind of party. Optimists will point out that an away win is no longer a shock, and the team has got used to winning abroad. As long as they continue winning, the pessimists won't get a look-in.
Either way, the Grace Road fixture should come as a welcome break. Two hard-fought Test matches left many of the team spent and here's a chance to wind down before heading back to London. It's a period in which they will work on overcoming a seven-year itch, in which time they have regularly gone down in an away Test immediately after winning one.
Statistics inform us that India picked up this poor habit at the Harare Sports Club in 2001, when they surrendered a 1-0 lead to end with a drawn series. Several bitter-sweet combinations have followed - Kandy-Colombo, Port-of-Spain-Bridgetown, Adelaide-Melbourne, Multan-Lahore, Johannesburg-Durban. They even managed to bring that form home with them last time they faced England - from victory in Mohali to defeat in Mumbai - and so all assistance needs to be sought to avoid Trent Bridge-Oval.
Less than half of India's squad had a net ahead of the match and most of the players who've been in form will be rested from the encounter. Wasim Jaffer, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Ramesh Powar, Ishant Sharma and Ranadeb Bose were the ones who trained in the nets for about two hours, and it is they who will take the field. Rahul Dravid, who observed proceedings for half an hour without actually having a bat, is also likely to play, in an aim to rediscover his form before the Oval encounter.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni needs a game, mainly to get his glovework in order. He's seen his keeping fall to pieces during the tour, yet hasn't dropped a single catch in either of the Tests. He's struggled to come to terms with the late swing and has been more of a football goalie parrying the ball away rather than a wicketkeeper collecting with soft hands.
Robin Singh, India's fielding coach, has been on the case. "It takes time. I've been talking to Alec Stewart and others here. I even spoke to Andy Flower, who gave up the gloves in this sort of scenario. The important thing is he's not lost his confidence and not dropped any catches. In England the ball swings a lot and even their wicketkeeper was struggling a lot. Matt Prior has been keeping in England but he's not had the best time."
India's catching, after a butter-fingered series in Bangladesh, has been surprisingly secure. A drop-rate of one per match - Dinesh Karthik's howler at Lord's and Sachin Tendulkar's straight-forward miss at Nottingham - is definitely an improvement. "We've been concentrating a lot on our catching," said Singh. "If you look at the West Indies series earlier, so many catches were dropped. It changes the course of the game. Most of the wickets have been taken by medium-pacers and we've taken all the important catches. Our overall fielding has improved. As you know most of the guys are on the older side, if you have a younger side, you'll probably see a better fielding unit."
Up against the Indians will be a more athletic side from the subcontinent. Sri Lanka A will go into their penultimate game of the tour upbeat, especially after their one-wicket victory over Yorkshire two days back. Thilan Samaraweera's side have lost just one of their seven matches on this tour so far with Kaushal Silva and Mahela Udawatte stringing together some useful scores. The medium-pacer Ishara Amarasinghe and legspinner Kaushal Lokuarachchi, two bowlers who've worn national colours, have also posed plenty of problems for the batsmen around the shires.
India (probable) 1 Wasim Jaffer, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Rahul Dravid (capt), 4 VVS Laxman, 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 MS Dhoni (wk), 7 Anil Kumble, 8 Sreesanth, 9 Ramesh Powar, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Ranadeb Bose
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo