India v England, 4th Test, Nagpur December 12, 2012

India's last bit of pride at stake

The home side enter the final in hope rather than expectation and need either a massive improvement, or a lot of luck, to draw the series

After India lost the Kolkata Test, the first time they have lost two in a row at home since 1999-2000, the first question MS Dhoni was asked at the press conference was: "How bad will it get before it gets better?" Dhoni has spoken to the press for close to 25 minutes since then, and all you can gather from his statements is he wished he knew how bad it will get before it gets better. For all you know, he might not even be there when it gets better.

Dhoni is making all the right noises - about not running away from the responsibility, about this being a true test of character, about enjoying the struggle, about the high spirits - but around him the world is falling apart. A former selector is saying Dhoni had - despite failures - reached a stature in the BCCI that even all five of them couldn't remove him based on performance. There are many unnamed sources besides, making many speculations about the team unity. It is difficult to lead a side at such times.

And what a side he is leading. Two batsmen fighting for their career, one golden boy losing his shine, one debutant at No. 6, one limited-overs spinner finding it hard to lead a Test attack, a fast bowler whose "unluckiness" has become a matter of ridicule, and another debutant fast bowler or a spinner making his way into the Test side with a stellar first-class average of 54.30 this season.

Between their last series defeat at home, in 2004-05, and now, India have been down in series, but it has hardly ever been this dire. The desperate part is that this is not a case of a good side being outplayed in consecutive Tests. If you are underperforming, there is hope you will come out of it. This is an ordinary side playing to its potential. Times are so bad even Suresh Raina is being reported to have offered his services as a Test opener. India will need to play extraordinary cricket - which it will find near impossible to repeat in the future - or England will have to play poorly for this series to be drawn.

A day before the Test, Dhoni said it was good that there weren't many options left. "In a way it's a good situation to be in where we have nowhere to go. We have to do well in this game." Which makes you wonder why they didn't feel the same when series in England and Australia were slipping away. It is worse for Dhoni because this is a home series. Dhoni has never lost a home Test series. And home series is the last bit of pride India have left in Test cricket.

What a time then for Ajinkya Rahane to be favoured for a Test debut. He has waited on the bench for months, when the going wasn't this tough. He has seen India stubbornly go back to Test failures - first Raina and then Yuvraj Singh - when he was in line for a debut. Now he gets it when not winning the next Test will be India's lowest point in Test cricket since they lost 2-0 to South Africa in 1999-2000.

And if India play two quicks, there is another debut guaranteed - either Ashok Dinda or Parvinder Awana. Considering they, and Ravindra Jadeja and Piyush Chawla, were playing Ranji Trophy two days before the match, big risks are unlikely. Rahane and Chawla are frontrunners as replacements for Yuvraj and Zaheer Khan right now.

A drawn final Test is not an option, and 20 wickets on a decent batting pitch a distant thought. Accordingly the pitch in Nagpur has received no water for two days. Despite what happened in Mumbai, a square turner with three spinners in the side remains India's best chance. How they will love to win the toss and watch Virender Sehwag have one of his days.

Sehwag aside, it will take a lot of painstaking improvement for India. Batsmen used to playing like millionaires might need to play like paupers, not going after boundaries. Sachin Tendulkar showed he can do it. Bowlers will need discipline and patience, and much more effort to turn the ball. Fielding will have to improve so much you rub your eyes in disbelief to make sure these are the same men as you saw in Kolkata.

In short, Sehwag aside, India need a miracle over the next five days. Possibly even three. And they will know a miracle alone won't be enough. It will have to be followed by honest introspection. After all, there is one Test series to come between now and IPL, when India will shine again.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rohan on December 14, 2012, 13:08 GMT

    Reap what you sow. Greg Chappell saw this coming years ago. Too many skippers in Indian cricket, not enough mates to do the heavy lifting!

  • Dummy4 on December 14, 2012, 7:53 GMT

    5 POINTS SOLUTION...Ind needs change in strategy than change in personnel...All English bowlers r superior to their Indian counterparts: Their avg pace 140 kph (and of Indians 130 kph), they got more swing, more turn on same pitches, they bowled more % of deliveries aiming stumps, they bowled cross seam to bring natural variation ...Now the solution part 1). Keep only 140+ kph fast bowlers V Aaaron &Yadav 2). Ashwin must bowl from around the wicket to bring lbw into equation & should bowl at least 2 carrom balls per over to put doubt in batsman's mind. 3). All Indian bowlers must aim 80 % deliveries at stumps with leg side attacking fields 4). Indian spin bowlers must also bowl cross seam to bring natural variation 5). Indian Batsmen must play with open face, face on technique & slash the ball on off side like Sehwag does as it chops the ball & ball doesn't carry in slip & u never get bowled 7). All Indian batsmen must play every ball considering in-dipper with bat in front of pads

  • Dummy4 on December 14, 2012, 7:50 GMT

    Tendulkar still has the highest test avg by any Indian in the history..............1 bad year doesn't make him a bad player if he can score at an outstanding avg of 70 & 80 in 37th & 38th years of life after disastrous 34th &35th years then no wonder he can repeat that feat at 40 &41 as well................His fitness is good. Just that he was a bit out of practice in 2012. Additionally he is still no 1 Indian test batsman on current ICC Rankings.

  • P Subramani on December 13, 2012, 13:40 GMT

    India beat England in England in 2007. So even if they lose 3-1 or 2-1 as they seem to heading for, I feel people should not react so much, After all this England side is probably better than any earlier team that toured India and are fully prepared for any contingency. That apart I think they are capable of beating every other country in away conditions now. The presence of Flower and Gooch has ensured that. India has been done in by a coach who is good reportedly, but who has not been allowed to spread his wings. Dhoni has lost his luck permanently and is now busy making sure that the future incumbent for captaincy Gambhir does not make it. Gambhir led KKR well and there seemed no differences between him and his team members which included some big names.So whatever Dhoni is harming Indian cricket and I wish he knew it. I wish he would be sacked after the English tour. He can wear his fatigues for other meetings in future.Inidan tolerate a lot in gratitude. It should never happen.

  • Tushar on December 13, 2012, 12:39 GMT

    When Ganguly was captain : "There is a rift in the team. The team unity has been destroyed"

    When Dhoni is captain: "There are many sources making many speculations about the team unity"

    Other captains fail to inspire players. Dhoni just has an ordinary team with out of form star players.

  • Tushar on December 13, 2012, 12:31 GMT

    Oh.... Monga, you a lot moan about this ordinary side to defend Dhoni. You are talking about ordinary players? Are they Das, Ramesh, Dasgupta, Bangar, Jaffer (almost similar stats as the ordinary Gambhir, right?), Chopra (still not good enough to be picked), Y Singh - these are the batsmen Ganguly led to victories. He won matches even with bowlers like Agarkar, and quite a few other not so good seamers, and the same unlucky guy I Sharma. Will you say all of them found form under Dada and Dhoni is plain unlucky to get these bunch of players? WAKE UP, FACE THE REALITY. DHONI is A VERY ORDINARY CAPTAIN!

  • Dummy4 on December 13, 2012, 12:19 GMT

    anil kumble was the main reason behind indias success in home conditions..ever since his retirement the air of invincibility india had at home is gone and might never come back until we find another world class spinner and atleast one decent pace bowler..i am afraid with indias current bowling line up, teams will be queuing up to tour india.but do the players really care...they used to be tigers at home and lambs they are lambs everywhere....silence of the lambs...they wudnt care as long as they have ipl..and fat bank balances...their paychecks are inversely proportional to their talent....

  • Nachiket on December 13, 2012, 8:42 GMT

    Rahane should search something else to do. He won't be getting a game for India in the near future it looks like.

  • Muhammad atif on December 13, 2012, 4:02 GMT

    I was expecting jadeja debut and not for rahane.the reason is that jadeja plays for csk and rahane for rr.a poor decision.rahane should have played in place of chawla.dhoni prefers csk players so this was rather clear of jadeja getting debut.

  • Baskar on December 13, 2012, 3:28 GMT

    It is not the end of the world if India loses a test series. India doesnt need a miracle to win this test, just play better than the English. Tired of Sid's propensity for hyperbole.

  • No featured comments at the moment.