Walking wounded still have scope to run
An impressive bounce-back at Headingley has helped India stay afloat in the series. With two games to go, here are some patterns to their performance so far
1. Reversals at Southampton and Edgbaston should have taught India that they must forget about inserting the opposition. The overcast conditions were nothing but a smoke-screen and India conceded 288 and 281 in the process. Chasing anything over 250, especially on a Test ground, automatically puts them on the back foot.
2. The grand opening stand at Headingley suggested that placing faith in their batsmen is always a better option. Paul Collingwood expected the ball to "move around" but it was India who made hay on a batting paradise. And even if there is some movement you would rather have your best two batsmen trying to counter it.
3. The effectiveness of India's No.3 has so far been reliant on the strength of the opening stand. Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly added 113 at Bristol and 116 at Headingley. The No.3 prospered on both these occasions (Yuvraj Singh hammered 49 in the first occasion and Gautam Gambhir cashed in with 51 at Leeds). When India have not started well their No.3 (Dinesh Karthik twice and Gambhir once) has managed 3, 0 and 4.
4. Rahul Dravid seems to prefer batting in all positions other than his best one. He has had a fine series so far, with two half-centuries and a 46, but has yet to bat at No.5, a spot from where he averages 45.50 in one-day internationals with two hundreds and 22 half-centuries. He walked in at No.4 in the first four matches before demoting himself to No.6 in the fifth.
5. An extra batsman did not make much of a difference at Southampton or Headingley and the extra bowler did not come of use at Old Trafford. Eventually, though, as Dravid said, it is "six of one or half a dozen of the other" and does not really make that much of a difference. India need to take a call depending on the conditions but otherwise the difference may be marginal.
6. India's fielding can plummet to unquantifiable depths but they can somewhat make up for that with intensity. Old Trafford showed us that they could apply pressure in the field and give it their all while defending 212.
7. It is a marvel that a side averaging two dropped catches per game is still in contention for the series. There were four muffs at Bristol, one dolly at Edgbaston, another gem at Old Trafford and three more at Leeds. Four of these have been in the slips (two to Tendulkar and two to Ganguly) and three more in the deep. India need to score enough runs to make up for four more fluffs in the next two games.
8. Spin wins games, even in chilly, overcast English conditions but part-time spin is not always favourable. Ramesh Powar, India's best bowler of the series, can restrict runs as well as winkle out wickets while Piyush Chawla comes with a bagful of variations but neither Yuvraj nor Tendulkar has made an impression. In these conditons, on pitches offering a bit of movement, part-time medium-pace - like Ganguly and Tendulkar - seems a better option.
9. The first two games reaffirmed the traditional belief about Ajit Agarkar being over the hill. The Old Trafford spell, where he bowled quick, conceded runs, yet got wickets, demolished those notions. At Headingley he proved he could follow the same procedure and yet not get wickets. They say cricketers are enigmas for no more than a season or two; Agarkar has shown one can be so through a career. The Oval and Lord's now await to see which Agarkar will land up. Do not miss it for anything.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo