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England take Ashes inspiration into Indian summer

Wednesday, 12 December 2012 - 3:41pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Just like in Sydney, team is focused on series victory. Home superstars desperate not to tarnish their legacy.

England last won a Test series in India in the year after Alastair Cook was born, so you can perhaps forgive them for putting on their most serious game face as the time of reckoning approaches here in Nagpur.

Leading the series 2-1, all they must do to succeed where so many others have failed, is to avoid defeat over the next five days - but just don't expect them to smile until the job is done.

It would be easy for the magnitude of such an event to overcome them. Yet, so confidently have they played since losing the first Test that while a draw would suffice, nothing but victory is being contemplated in the fourth Test which begins tomorrow morning (Thursday), a result that would put some belated gloss on a year in which they suffered six Test defeats and the loss of their No?1 status.

Two-one up with one to play is a position they found themselves in during the last Ashes series, so they know the emotional forces at play. But as Graeme Swann pointed out yesterday, they remained focused enough in Australia to produce their best win of the series, a pattern they will be trying to repeat here.

"I think arguably our best victory in Australia was that last one in Sydney because we had already retained the Ashes," said Swann yesterday.

"I remember Andrew Strauss sitting us down and stressing the importance of how much hard work we had put in on that trip and how it would be wasted if the series ended up at 2-2.

"It worked for us over there and it's a good attitude to take in here. You never want to draw a series, you never want to lose a series, you only ever come out with one aim in mind and that's to win it.

"It would have been very easy to just lose in the last game but we managed to pull out our best game of the tour and win 3-1."

England were up against a proud but demoralised foe then, whereas this time they will be up against one at a watershed moment in their history and desperate not to lose face. Like the old Soviet Union, India's team of superstars is gradually being broken up and this is one last chance for players such as MS Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag to avoid having their substantial legacy tainted by a home series defeat.

They will also not want to end their Test careers with the public perception that they have grown fat on bowling four overs and or hitting a quick 30 in the Indian Premier League, so expect caution to be thrown to the breeze.

As captain, Dhoni will be especially keen to avoid being beaten at home. Before a ball was bowled, this series was billed as one of revenge for India, with Dhoni intent on inflicting the kind of 4-0 humiliation that had been visited upon his side when they toured England and Australia.

Instead of going 1-0 up and shutting up shop by playing on dead pitches like his predecessors would have done, his determination to playing on raging turners has backfired badly after England won the second and third Tests.

That led to suggestions that the pitch here in Nagpur would be a minefield but so far, it looks a decent surface being hard, cracked, with a thin covering of grass, though that can easily be removed.

Yet even if it is shaved down, there should be some extra bounce for the pace bowlers to start with, becoming more uneven as the cracks widen and start fracturing at the edges, whereupon the spinners should start to enjoy themselves.

Such is the sensitivity about the pitch that the Nagpur groundsman was gagged by the Board of Control for Cricket in India yesterday, but England possess enough form players to beat India on any surface, so it is difficult seeing them capitulating here. But if India possess one man capable of taking the match away from them quickly enough to allow India's bowlers enough time to take 20 wickets it is Sehwag, one of two destructive batsmen in the match, the other being Kevin Pietersen.

Sehwag made a century in India's win at Ahmedabad and while his next best is 49, he has threatened to cut loose on a few occasions. None of the other batsmen, except perhaps an in-form Virat Kohli, will score quickly enough to create enough time in the game to pressure England, who have felt the pain of Sehwag's whirring bat before, in Chennai four years ago. Then, a game that they looked certain to win was ripped from their grasp by a whirlwind 83 in 63 balls in which all but 15 runs were scored in boundaries.

Sehwag targets all bowlers but India's other batsmen may home in on Monty Panesar, especially if the pitch does not turn early on in the match. Panesar, who tends to come on before Swann if there is an end to be blocked up, was got at in the second innings in Calcutta by Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir and did not respond all that well, something that also happened earlier in the year against Sri Lanka in Galle. India will obviously try to prey on him again but as Swann revealed yesterday, it will not be easy for them as all negative attitudes in England's camp have been banished since Ahmedabad.

"It's very easy to get in that rut of losing games, travelling around losing another one and you can't wait to get home at the end of it rather than focus on winning the next game," said Swann. "There was a lot of focus and energy that this trip was not going to be like that. I have only been on one Test tour here before but there certainly seemed more belief from the outset on this one."

If it is difficult to see England making any changes, India will probably play pace bowler Ashok Dinda alongside Ishant Sharma and bring in Ravindra Jadeja as a spinning all-rounder at No?6. Jadeja, a left-hander, has made two triple centuries this season and would bring some spiky energy to the home side's indolent fielding.

Whether it will be enough to prevent England conquering the final frontier for the first time in almost 28 years is unlikely, but then most thought that an almost impossible outcome after Ahmedabad.
 




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