India must expand the art of aggro-culture
Conventional wisdom says the fourth one-day international at Old Trafford was one India would rather forget; it was a scrap India had got on top of by creeping under the skin of the opposition, and losing from there would have brought a sense of hopelessness. Yet it was also a game they can take a lot of heart from.
For one hour in the field - the first period of the run-chase - India displayed more positives than they had over several hours in earlier games. This was, without a shadow of a doubt, their best effort on the field in a long while - throwing punches fearlessly, catching eagerly and mouthing off with abandon. Their ground fielding was only marginally better than earlier but the buzz was unmistakable. Led by Yuvraj Singh and Dinesh Karthik, the younger players took it upon themselves to pump up the volume and inject the side with much-needed energy.
One moment, when Kevin Pietersen was new to the crease, summed up the high-voltage approach. Rahul Dravid, after a chat with the umpires, asked Yuvraj, at point, to cool off; Karthik, standing at cover, immediately came to his rescue and shot off an explanation. Nothing, not even their captain, was going to shut them up.
Dravid too was more energised than in recent days. The modest total of 212 forced him to set attacking fields right through England's innings and crucially Dravid did not hesitate to put men around the bat, providing the spinners all the support they could ask for.
It was, as Nasser Hussain in the commentary box reiterated several times, the aggression India have been missing. They hardly landed up at Southampton and Edgbaston and even the victory at Bristol came with a sense of fatigue. Old Trafford may have thrown up an alternative path: with three matches to go, and the series almost out of their reach, India could transfer their aggression to the bat as well. Their batting, Bristol excepted, has been jaded and there cannot be a better time to start expressing themselves freely.
"We came to 212 with some good contributions lower down the order from Zaheer [Khan] and Piyush [Chawla]," Dravid after Thursday's match. "In the end, though, I thought we should have scrapped a lot harder and got to 240. That was certainly gettable." A lower-order scrap would have got them there but what about a top-order breaking free of the shackles?
|The line-up may still need tinkering - Karthik at No. 3 does not seem to be the answer - but it is the mindset that needs to change|
The line-up may still need tinkering - Karthik at No. 3 does not seem to be the answer - but it is the mindset that needs to change. India are approaching these games as if they are Tests, getting into their stride and building innings, but caution can only take you so far. That approach worked well in the Test series, gradually grinding out the opposition, but the one-day game demands a more proactive approach.
Lively young men such as Karthik and Mahendra Singh Dhoni have pottered around at the crease. They are facing good bowlers on home turf but doing very little to rattle them. Up against a predominantly back-of-a-length attack they are finding it tough to break the shackles. Yuvraj's clean-striking has been the most refreshing sight and he needs to be rewarded with a push up the order. Keeping him at No. 5 is only adding to his burden . It is this younger batch that will carry India through the next few years and into the next World Cup. Four or five of the current team will not be around for the event and it is up to the rest to form the nucleus of a side for the future. India are currently in no-man's land, neither winning games nor building for the future, and run the risk of sliding further.
It is time for the next generation to be thrown in the deep and told to back their aggressive instincts. The series might be decided in Headingley but India need to look at this as the start of a new chapter.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo