The Telegraph
Sunday , August 17 , 2014
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Forget Lord’s, Indians are on the mat one more time

A dejected Varun Aaron, on Saturday

London: With the “process,” which has never quite been spelt out, taking precedence, one is left wondering just who in the India dressing room will talk about results.

Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been bowled over by the “process,” so it won’t be him... Deputy Virat Kohli is out of form and not qualified to say anything... Coach Duncan Fletcher has such a disgraceful record overseas that he’s not fit to speak either.

One has to keep guessing.

If the defeats in Southampton and Manchester (after the high at Lord’s) weren’t humiliating enough, India are on the mat at The Oval as well.

Coming off totals of 178, 152 and 148, India should have included specialist bat Rohit Sharma in place of Ravindra Jadeja. Instead, they picked Stuart Binny, who has been producing neither-here-nor-there performances.

Inserted on a greenish wicket, India would actually have been bowled out for under 100. Dhoni’s 58-run partnership with Ishant Sharma, for the last wicket, averted that ignominy.

That was the only 50-plus collaboration.

Dhoni was brilliant in getting 82, showing exactly how to bat in challenging conditions. But, as a “saddened” Dilip Doshi asked, in a conversation with The Telegraph, what can a general do if he has “lame soldiers” under his command.

Given India’s poor run in recent weeks, it may not shock that England’s bowlers pulled off seven wicket-maidens, on Friday, Day I of the final Test.

Seven, yes.

By stumps itself, England had knocked off 62 of the 148 runs. A day later, at the close (on Saturday), England were 237 in front with three wickets in hand.

Yet again, the task is cut out for India as England appear to be firmly on track for a 3-1 series win.

For England, there were smart contributions down the order, reducing Ian Bell and Moeen Ali’s failures to a non-event.

Captain Alastair Cook was lucky — let off by umpire Paul Reiffel very early on and, much later, dropped twice — but nothing matters more than what’s on the scoreboard.

Cook scored 79, fellow-opener Sam Robson got 37, the impressive Gary Ballance scored 64, Jos Buttler got 45 and, at stumps, the ever-improving Joe Root stood eight short of an excellent hundred.

In Ballance and Root, England have batsmen with good temperament and skill of a high level. Not to forget Buttler, who can serve plenty of excitement.

England claimed all three sessions on Friday and, on Day II, India managed to win session No. 2. But such was England’s push after tea, with Root leading the charge, that the previous session (four wickets) got forgotten.

Significantly, Ballance, whose roots are in Zimbabwe, has crossed 500 for the series. It’s a huge achievement.

“I’m very, very happy with the way the summer has gone,” Ballance said, praising Root and Buttler for the way they “counter-attacked.”

Ravichandran Ashwin, for his part, maintained that “cricket is a funny game” and that India “gave it all” on Day II.

“Whatever the facet of cricket, it’s all about confidence,” Ashwin, who bowled an excellent spell in the afternoon (after a video analysis at the break), added.

Confidence is in short supply in the India dressing room, though.

Footnote: For India, the one bright spot has been speedster Varun Aaron’s ability to rattle England. On Saturday, he consistently bowled close to 90 mph, which is unusual for us. The big worry is that he’s prone to injuries.