London: Three weeks on, it has become cooler around here. Noticeably, not significantly. Far more pronounced has been the drop in India’s performance after the Lord’s Test. From red hot to cold.
To the extent that the 95-run win at Lord’s, the first there after 1986, seems to have come about in another era.
At Lord’s, it appeared Alastair Cook and England could do little right. Two big defeats later, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and India are in exactly that situation.
A time when searching questions get asked and the answers just don’t sound convincing.
Now, at best, India can draw the five-Test series, but most pundits don’t see that happening.
A conventional approach won’t do and it won’t be a bad idea for Dhoni to unleash something out of the box. He must, after all, set the agenda for the next five days.
India, of course, have the awful habit of taking the lead and, yet, finishing second-best in a bilateral affair.
Happened in the West Indies in 2001-02, when Sourav Ganguly was the captain. One saw a repeat in 2006-07, under Rahul Dravid, in South Africa.
Not inspirational stuff, but Dhoni and his men have an obligation to again start getting their act right, beginning Independence Day.
At The Oval, it’s time to play without shackles and sans unnecessary traffic in the mind.
“Independence Day is big for us, but representing the country is motivation enough... We don’t want to think about anything except the Test,” Dhoni pointed out.
There’s certainly place for history in cricket, but it’s the present (or the immediate past performance) which matters.
For decades, The Oval was associated with the record-scripting four-wicket win under Ajit Wadekar, in 1971. Three summers ago, however, Andrew Strauss’s England made it 4-0 at the very ground which meant much for India.
Lesson: You can’t keep living in the past. And, when reality knocks, it often hurts.
Incidentally, that last India-England Test saw Mansur Ali Khan ‘Tiger’ Pataudi make what turned out to be his final public appearance.
There was a slip-up at the presentation of the Pataudi Trophy, by Tiger, though. Hopefully, this time, the England and Wales Cricket Board will get it right when Begum Sharmila Tagore gives away the Trophy.
Sharmila has reached London.
“From a narrow Indian perspective, it’s disappointing that, at best, the Pataudi Trophy can only be jointly awarded to both captains. But that would still be better than India not winning at The Oval and losing the series 1-2 or 1-3...
“Having said that, the Pataudi Trophy is meant to celebrate cricket and the sport-related ties between India and England. So, no matter what the result, the spirit behind the Trophy remains...
“For me and the family, there’s a huge emotional connect with the Pataudi Trophy,” Sharmila told The Telegraph on Thursday afternoon.
Ishant Sharma, meanwhile, is fit for selection. MoM at Lord’s, the most experienced bowler in the touring party had to miss the next two Tests.
It turned out to be a telling absence.
With Ishant fit, Pankaj Singh will have to miss out.
Fit, too, is Stuart Broad. It’s not clear whether he’ll actually wear a face mask, but his helmet has been modified.
Varun Aaron necessitated it.
England could look at effecting one change — recalling Steven Finn and omitting Chris Jordan. But don’t bet on that.
While England trained without interruption, in the morning, rain forced India to go indoors.
It kept raining till rather late.
India (likely): Murali Vijay, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Varun Aaron, Ishant Sharma.
England (likely): Alastair Cook, Sam Robson, Gary Ballance, Ian Bell, Chris Jordan/Steven Finn, Joe Root, Moeen Ali, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad, James Anderson.
Match starts: 3.30 pm (IST).