Dhoni backs Sehwag to keep jaded India on top of the world

 

There will be no more opportunities for India to show why they are the world's No 1 team. Lose the third Test which starts today and the ranking they have held for almost two years will be taken away.

According to the International Cricket Council's arcane system they will slip to second place behind England. The evidence of the first two matches suggests that they are lucky Standard & Poor's are not involved, or their rating might decline much more dramatically.

Despite fleeting glimpses, India grossly under-performed at Lord's and Trent Bridge, winning both tosses yet being thoroughly incapable of making anything of initially good positions. Although their much lauded batting has yet to fire on all cylinders, their main cause of concern will be how they can take 20 wickets.

They did so at Trent Bridge but by that time their opponents were 477 runs ahead and the match was over. This did not prevent their captain MS Dhoni from being his characteristically sanguine self yesterday.

Unbothered by the trouble in Birmingham in which some of his team were briefly caught up on Monday night without hindrance, he appeared still less concerned by India's parlous position in the series.

But he did concede: "With the injuries, the fitness and the form, we have had quite a few things to worry about - so we can say it's among the most difficult tours. It's difficult to exactly recall how you were feeling when you were in New Zealand, West Indies South Africa, Australia - but this is among the toughest. That's what you expect at the top level."

It is obviously of some relief for India to have Virender Sehwag back. Although he has managed only one short-lived innings since returning from shoulder surgery, at Northampton last week, that is of minimal concern. Sehwag has never been a batsman to leave his best work in the nets.

"He's a very dynamic player, who backs his instinct to play shots, irrespective of which bowler he is facing," said Dhoni. "He believes more in looking at the ball and just giving it the treatment it deserves. We all know an aggressive opener can have a very big impact on the opposition bowling attack – so he's a very good player to have in the side."

The ball is likely to do a little off the pitch all match, if its green colour yesterday was anything to judge it by and that is not the sort of surface to favour any batsman, and certainly not Sehwag who always plays shots. But were he to get away with it for a couple of hours, he could supply precisely the injection of fuel India require.

The seam attack will probably be unchanged with Ishant Sharma supported by Praveen Kumar and Sree Sreesanth. Kumar is too slow to trouble the highest quality batsman but he can be a magician with the moving ball. Spinner Amit Mishra is likely to replace Harbhajan Singh.

India, however, look generally jaded. If the two main elements have been lacking, their fielding has been uniformly dreadful. Dhoni's own form as wicketkeeper and batsman has been that of a man who has played too much cricket. He said they were coping.

"Different things work for different individuals," he said. "For some, it is going to the net sessions and practising more than usual; for others, it is getting away from cricket.

"In the last two Test matches, we were in positions where we could dominate. What's important is to get into a similar position again, and from there put further pressure on them and then finish it off well."

It is to be hoped he was himself convinced by this. None of his listeners was.

India's saviours? Three men who may turn tide

Virender Sehwag Arguably the most explosive opening batsman in Test history, Sehwag is highly likely to return for India today, despite his almost complete lack of first-class action lately. Sehwag, who has an astonishing strike rate of 81.91 in Tests, almost equal with Adam Gilchrist, to go with his batting average of 53.43, is back after injury and will bolster India's dramatically under-performing batting line-up. Sehwag was named as Wisden's Leading Cricketer in the World award for both 2008 and 2009, and he holds nearly every available record for fast scoring in Test cricket.

Munaf Patel The 28-year-old seamer is a one-day specialist, playing in India's victorious World Cup team earlier this year. His 13 Test matches have been spread over five years, having made his debut in 2006 against England in the famous 'ring of fire' victory for Freddie Flintoff's men.

Amit Mishra The 28-year-old leg-spinner should replace Harbhajan Singh, and like Munaf Patel he played a Test in the West Indies recently after a patchy start to his five-day career.

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