Confident coach believes India 'capable of anything'
"If that's the perception, then we'd like to change that," said Gary Kirsten, when someone mentioned India's rather ordinary record when it comes to fourth-innings pursuits. "This team is capable of anything and we believe we have the players to do some special stuff on a cricket field." Given that the pitch hasn't fallen apart in the manner that was predicted by many, such optimism isn't entirely misplaced, but it's safe to say India will need to play out of their skins and hope for a helping hand from any clouds in the neighbourhood.
"England have played very well to get into the position they are in right now," Kirsten said. "But there are still 180 overs left in this Test, so let's see what we can do." At one point, with Kevin Pietersen trudging back to the pavilion and the scoreboard showing 43 for 3, India were laughing, but there were more than a few tense and pinched faces when they walked off at 5pm. By then, Paul Collingwood and Andrew Strauss, dropped on 15 by Dhoni the over after Pietersen's exit, had added 129, and emphatically blunted the Indian threat.
"We have tried everything," Kirsten said. "MS [Mahendra Singh Dhoni] captained the side really well, specifically today. If you ask me if he could have done anything differently, I will say no. At the end of the day when you look back, our bowlers have done everything they could have. But we were up against a team that played better than us today."
Kirsten refused to blame the circumstances leading up to the game for India's plight - "We were very well prepared for this Test match" - and was effusive in his praise for Strauss, whose gritty batting had more than a few shades of Kirsten the batsman.
"He played exceptionally well in this Test match. He is an experienced Test player and he understood the conditions very well. He also understood the bowlers that he was going to face. We had some plans against him but he understood what he needed to do and played very well."
The bowlers managed only one maiden over [Yuvraj Singh] until Zaheer Khan strung three together late in the day, but as far as Kirsten was concerned, it was a case of England playing better than India playing badly.
"Test matches are a battle," he said. "We are going to face teams that will play well against us. I don't think it was the case that we are playing bad Test cricket. Our bowlers did a good job. We know we should have put some more runs on the board."
Given Rahul Dravid's run-drought though, there could certainly be a tweak or two in the line-up when India emerge to chase a target. "We are keeping that for later," Kirsten said, and the lack of a forceful denial suggest that it was certainly an option. "We're always thinking about what we can do with our plans with bat and ball. But we're not going to make any drastic changes."
The pitch will come in for increasing scrutiny as the match progresses, but Kirsten refused to be too perturbed by thoughts of a final-day dustbowl. "There's no doubt if you land the ball in certain areas, it's going to do something. But we have also seen that people can bat on it, if you can spend time on the crease.
"There aren't too many balls that make it unpleasant, and the bounce is even. There will be a little bit reverse [swing], but we are confident that we can bat on it. We won't be going there tomorrow thinking that we have lost the game. That's for sure."
His players now need to justify that faith.