England tour of India - Cricket: India looking for an unbeatable lead

Published: Saturday, January 26, 2002, 23:53 [IST]
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Kanpur: Despite its 2-1 advantage, India is still grappling to evolve an effective strategy against England as it goes into the fourth One-dayer in Kanpur on Monday hoping to secure the six-match series for itself.The three matches so far have been far closer than expected and India's two wins have not been as comprehensive as it would have liked them to be. It was lucky to have survived Marcus Trescothick's onslaught in the first match in Kolkata while in Chennai, it very nearly made a mess of a rollicking start to its run-chase before holding on for a four-wicket win.On the other hand, the visitors have been more impressive and have made the Indians work extremely hard for their victories. The team management is now working overtime to hammer out a well-laid out plan to tackle the visitors who have undoubtedly been the better team as far as strategies and their meticulous execution are concerned. Coach John Wright has already identified fielding and the brittle middle order batting as two areas of immediate concern to the Indians and they would do well to keep that in mind when they go on to the field on Monday. In a bid to make the middle order more stable, the selectors made a big decision when they dropped V V S Laxman from the squad for the second half of the series on Friday, replacing him with middle order batsman Mohd Kaif. Kaif, in all probability, will play on Monday and it would be One-day debut for the promising youngster. In his earlier four-Test match stint, the gutsy batsman has not quite done justice to his talent, with 37 as his highest score, and it is expected he will make the most of the opportunity at his home ground on Monday.The Indians will also get a big psychological boost with Saurav Ganguly most likely to be back at the helm of affairs after missing the Chennai match due to a hamstring injury. Though no one was ready to give a definite information on the skipper, Wright said the MRI scans on Ganguly's injury had been found to be okay and he should hopefully be back to lead the side here.A victory for the hosts here would mean England can stop entertaining its hopes of a series triumph and that is one reason why the visitors would be all pumped up to win the match on Monday and square the series 2-2.India is far from having settled its problem areas and has allowed England to exploit on its weaknesses. England captain Nasser Hussain had only stated the obvious at the beginning of the series when he said the Indians are known chokers in crunch situations. And the way he has been able to exploit that vulnerability with meticulous planning has been remarkable. India's problem starts right at the top and the man who can rectify it is none other than the captain himself. After another successful innings of Virender Sehwag as an opener in Chennai, the pressure has increased on Ganguly to perform.Despite his prolonged loss of form, Ganguly has been averaging a formidable 44 in the One-dayers but it's been long since he played a real match-winning knock. With Rahul Dravid and Laxman out, for different reasons, the Indian middle order hardly has any experience and it would put a lot of responsibility on the younger players. Dinesh Mongia is going great guns in this series and has been scoring consistently but Hemang Badani has looked like crumbling under pressure. To be fair to the Tamil Nadu left-hander, he has been going in to bat in situations where he has little time to settle down. But then international cricket is all about handling pressure well and Badani cannot escape from it.Rookie wicket-keeper Ajay Ratra has shown good nerves in his cameo knocks in the two previous performances and if he can continue with that he can be a long-term prospect for the Indian team though his primary job behind the wicket needs a lot of improvement. Indian bowlers did a commendable job in Chennai in restricting England to a modest total. Though the English batsmen seem to have done their homework well on Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, the two spinners proved they still had a few tricks up their sleeves.They would be ready to work their magic again and would require good support from new ball bowlers Javagal Srinath and Ajit Agarkar. If Srinath and Agarkar can contain the run flow in the initial overs, it would give the spinners the ideal platform to cut loose themselves. Among the Englishmen, Trescothick has emerged the most dangerous player for the Indians. The opener has been very severe on the seam bowlers and has utilised the field restrictions well to his advantage. But having dismissed him twice with surprise short deliveries, Agarkar probably knows a thing or two about his weakness and a small individual duel is likely in store for them on Monday. Nick Knight joined the team as a specialist One-day opener but he has failed in all the three matches so far and that is a problem area for England. Hussain himself has been a pillar of strength as a batsman. He probably overdid things in attacking every ball in Chennai, which proved to be his nemesis, but he is an extremely fast learner and would definitely bounce back in this match.England might also be tempted to bring in the experienced Graham Thorpe who has been left out in the last two matches despite having recovered from a stomach problem. The seasoned campaigner can lend a new stability to the middle order, which would be very vital in a pressure game like this.The English bowlers have been quite impressive with Andrew Flintoff clearly being the pick of the lot. He has bowled with a lot of fire and has been able to pin the batsmen down. He was even able to keep Sachin Tendulkar and Sehwag in check when the duo were in full flow in the first few overs in Chennai. Matthew Hoggard and Darren Gough have also been effective so much so that a capable bowler like Andrew Caddick is not able to find a place in the team. PTI

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