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Absolute humiliation has been avoided, not embarrassment

- Dravid and Laxman’s absence being felt even at home
Kapil Dev & Ravi Shastri

Calcutta: Test cricket has seen strange happenings, with New Zealand bowled out for as few as 26, but expecting India to script a miracle on Sunday is hoping for too much.

Senior pro Virender Sehwag has conceded that only “God” can help India. But God helps those who help themselves, not indulge in self-destruction.

The third Test was, in fact, heading for a finish inside four days, on Saturday, but Ravichandran Ashwin produced an extraordinary face saver to ensure (a) that an innings defeat was avoided and (b) the match went into the concluding day.

Ashwin (batting 83) received an ovation worthy of a record-breaker when he and Pragyan Ojha came off at stumps.

The last-wicket pair have already put on 42, building on the 38 for the ninth wicket between Ashwin, who used to open in his younger days, and Ishant Sharma.

At best, absolute humiliation has been avoided, but the embarrassment is still set to be huge.

On the verge of taking a 2-1 lead in the four-Test series, England have been playing as if at home. The hosts, on the other hand, are giving the impression that they’re struggling overseas!

It’s an incredible state of affairs.

“I’d say the Test was set up for a classic finish at lunch, but you’ve got to give England credit for what they did after the break... More than flaying the Indian batting, I’d praise England’s bowling... Their determination...

“Of course, it helps if the opposition gets Sehwag’s wicket on the very first ball after resumption... Such big wickets lift teams,” former India captain and cricket manager Ravi Shastri told The Telegraph.

As for the Eden wicket, Shastri had no complaints.

At lunch, India were 86 for no loss, having quickly cut down the 207-run deficit to 121. However, six wickets fell between lunch and tea, with Alastair Cook and his men having a memorable 17 overs.

“It’s Test cricket and you have to show some patience... The key was showing patience,” Sehwag lamented.

While there was appreciation for Ashwin (he didn’t deliver in his principal role, though), many leaving the Eden called for captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s head and demanded wholesale changes for the final Test.

Speaking exclusively, former India captain and coach Kapil Dev said: “I don’t want to pick the XI for the next Test, but changes have to be made... We’re talking of the batting and the bowling, but what about the fielding?

“One can carry ‘excess baggage’ to a point only... Till such time that the team is winning... Once you begin to lose, you can’t hide anybody... The contribution of some players has to be reviewed... Try out the Ajinkya Rahanes.”

Till the other day, the fear was that Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman would be missed overseas, but the reality is that their absence is being felt even at home.

The in-form Cheteshwar Pujara showed poor cricketing sense and somebody like Virat Kohli, projected as the next bada player, failed yet again.

Gautam Gambhir registered a dubious double: He had a hand in Sehwag’s run out in the first innings and was Pujara’s partner in the second.

Sachin Tendulkar flopped as well, swallowed by the champion off-spinner, Graeme Swann. It’s not official, but it’s highly unlikely that The Master will again do Test duty at the Eden.

To go out unsung... It’s a cruel sport.

In the lead-up to the Test, former Pakistan captain Ramiz Raja told this newspaper that India had to sharpen up tactically. That they had to read situations better.

India (undefeated at the Eden after the loss to Pakistan in February 1999) didn’t and are paying a heavy price.