Chelmsford (England): Having left behind his woeful form with a classy 250 in the on- going four day match against Essex, Shiv Sunder Das is brimming with confidence and already talking in terms of tackling England paceman Matthew Hoggard in the third Test in Headingly.
"Hoggard is the pick of England bowlers, there is no doubt about that," said Das, almost certain that he will be recalled for the third Test after being left out in the first two. "But I have faced Glenn McGrath in the past and nobody gets better than him," he said.
Das was hailed as the answer to India's opening blues not very long ago before he fumbled in the West Indies, scoring only 124 runs at 15.50 from five Tests. "I worked really hard to eliminate a few chinks which had appeared in my batting and it concerned my back lift," said Das. The diminutive opener was repeatedly getting out clean bowled or leg before stumps either inside edging them on to his stumps or playing across and paying the penalty. "I realised my bat was coming from the gully position and I was not quite playing back and across," commented Das, looking back at his horror patch which forced the team management to dump him and look for better options.
Das recounted how he had slogged for hours at end in the six-eight weeks he had to himself between the West Indies and England tour in order to iron out his drawbacks. "I worked extremely hard to remove my drawbacks," said Das. "Even in the 20 days here while the two Tests were being played, I used to spend hours in the nets under the guidance of coach John Wright. The lad from Orissa said hard work was nothing new to him as he belonged to a state, which has produced only one other international cricketer in the past, seam bowler Debashish Mohanty.
"It has not been an easy climb for me in international cricket. I am used to hard work and I was prepared to do whatever it took to get back into the side." Having said that, Das was of the opinion that the increased competition for berths in the Indian team had made it difficult for players to stay in the team for long. "It is extremely tough these days for a cricketer to retain his place in the Indian team. There is so much cricket being played these days and you are always under microscope," commented Das.
This competition saw Das lose his place in the team to a middle-order batsman Virender Sehwag in the first two Tests of the present series after being the regular opener for more than two years and 23 Tests. Das was aware he was under scrutiny when he began the present tour but was still not prepared for his omission when it came after just one failure in the tour opener at Arundel, a three-day game against the West Indies 'A' team. "I knew the game was extremely important and I had done no good by scoring 29 and 0 in the two innings. But still it was a huge disappointment to lose out on the first two Tests, said Das.
Das realised the game against Essex, which started on Wednesday, was a do-or-die affair for him, especially since Sehwag had done so well in the first two Tests. "I was extremely nervous in the initial phase. For the first half an hour, I really was tense for a big score," commented Das. As it happened, Das stayed on and on, hour after hour, and compiled a masterpiece on a featherbed track, hitting 32 fours and four sixes in his 480-minute, 380-ball knock. He was the last man to be out at a stage when just one more boundary would have given him the highest ever score by an Indian batsman in England, improving upon the 252, which Polly Umrigar had hit for the touring Indians against Cambridge University in 1959.
"I wasn't aware of that landmark," said Das. "The only thing I was interested in was to overtake my own best first class score of 253, made against Bengal in an East Zone Ranji Trophy match last year." Das surprised even his admirers by going for big shots right from the start as he has a reputation of being a dour batsman who stays long but doesn't score many runs. "People don't realise we have a set of players who are attacking batsmen and you need somebody to occupy the crease too. But still I was aware of the criticism and worked on this aspect of my batting after the West Indies tour."