| Hussain: Playing the pressure card
London: A shade under 13 years ago, taunts from the zenana stands in Pakistan would make Sachin Tendulkar turn red with embarrassment. Since then, of course, he has beaten bowlers black and blue. Indeed, the Sachin of today is far removed from the somewhat fidgety debutant at the National Stadium in Karachi.
And, because he is Sachin Tendulkar, the focus now is as much on his 100th Test appearance — at The Oval Thursday — as it is on India and England tied 1-1 with only the last five days of this series remaining. Sachin, incidentally, will be the youngest member in the 100 Club.
Yet, once the fourth and final Test gets underway, the attention should wholly shift to what promises to be a humdinger. With so much at stake, for both Sourav Ganguly and Nasser Hussain, all stops are bound to be pulled out.
For his part, the England captain has continued to exert psychological pressure. “Not having won a series outside the sub-continent for 16 years, the pressure is on India... I doubt if Sourav is going to sleep well. His team can either go back as heroes or...” Hussain remarked Wednesday afternoon.
The Indian captain, though, didn’t fall for the bait. “I don’t think we should be talking of sleeping or not sleeping well... In any case, what matters is how one plays on the five days... In those 15 sessions,” Sourav countered.
But, yes, Sourav is aware of just how close his team is to at least achieving short-term immortality. “We’ve been in similar situations in the past year or so... Now, we’ve got a chance to make amends for not getting it right in Sri Lanka and the West Indies,” is how he put it.
While England had a big win (170 runs) at Lord’s, India posted their most emphatic victory overseas (innings and 46 runs) at Headingley. The odds, then, favour India. Only, as Sourav himself pointed out, the past doesn’t exactly have much relevance.
“They should just be looking to repeating Headingley which, in my opinion, ranks as one of our greatest wins anywhere. The boys didn’t do a thing wrong and the same formula should be on display in the decider,” observed India’s first captain to taste success overseas, Mansur Ali Khan ‘Tiger’ Pataudi, during a chat with The Telegraph.
In a wonderful gesture, Pataudi (who is on a short visit) went over to the team hotel, St James Crowne Plaza, Tuesday evening to personally congratulate Sourav and the rest. He also spoke to some of the players for about half-an-hour. At the end of that informal interaction, the Anil Kumbles were heard saying “Sir, thank you...”
Obviously, the captains will be looking for different results, but both appeared to concur in their reading of the wicket. “Looks a flat surface,” was Hussain’s assessment. Sourav went a step further and said it “seems a good Test track...”
Not too long ago, The Oval had plenty of bounce. In more recent years, it has been pretty favourably disposed towards spinners. Even if it wasn’t, India would still be looking to Kumble and Harbhajan Singh to do the trick. Significantly, only once before has a Test in England begun later: Against Australia, in the summer of 1880.
For the record, India’s finest moment at this venue, in 1971, had seen Bhagwat Chandrasekhar return match figures of eight for 114 in the four-wicket victory under Ajit Wadekar.
But the spinners apart, the batsmen will have to do their bit. At Headingley, for instance, it’s the huge 628 for eight score which crushed England. Sanjay Bangar made a very meaningful contribution at the very top and, then, the middle-order gems sparkled. So much so that Rahul Dravid, Sachin and Sourav all got hundreds.
Typically, however, Sourav made the point about not reading too much into those three hundreds. “After all, irrespective of form, it requires just one ball to get you...”
While the Indians will be effecting one change from the last Test — Ajay Ratra replacing Parthiv Patel — the scene isn’t quite clear on the England front. Moreover, in a shock decision, the team management “released” allrounder Ronnie Irani Wednesday morning to limit their squad to the customary 13.
The official explanation was on the lines of “Dominic Cork being a better package.” Fair enough, but this ought to have been realised Sunday itself, when the selection was made.
One understands Hussain and coach Duncan Fletcher are undecided on whether to field six specialist batsmen or seven. If it’s six, then Robert Key will sit out as Marcus Trescothick is set for a comeback after missing each of the earlier three Tests. Till that six or seven business is sorted out, England’s bowling combination won’t be clear either.
Meanwhile, the captain winning the coin-call will definitely opt to bat. Act I of what should be the perfect finale to the summer — no tickets, by the way, are available for any of the first four days (there are no advance sales for the fifth) — will then begin to unfold.
India: Virender Sehwag, Sanjay Bangar, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman, Ajit Agarkar, Ajay Ratra, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan.
England (from): Marcus Trescothick, Michael Vaughan, Mark Butcher, Nasser Hussain, John Crawley, Alec Stewart, Robert Key, Alex Tudor, Dominic Cork, Ashley Giles, Andrew Caddick, Matthew Hoggard and Stephen Harmison.
Umpires: Dave Orchard, Asoka de Silva.