Dhoni needs Sehwag and Zaheer back to lift India's sagging spirits

 

Say it ain't so, MS. Say this isn't the best India can do. Tell us that the arrival of Virender Sehwag and the probable return to fitness of both Zaheer Khan and Gautam Gambhir will have England running for cover come next week's third Test at Edgbaston.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, captain of a team now clinging to the title of world's best by their very fingertips, was given every invitation to raise a nation's spirits immediately after Monday's crushing defeat in Nottingham – and the best he could do, really, was to tell countless millions of fans to hope for a change of fortune.

Dhoni is a deeply impressive character and, given that his job is one of the more demanding in international sport when it comes to dealing with the expectations of besotted supporters all around the globe, who can blame him for trying to keep this series in perspective?

But India's followers urgently need some encouragement right now after seeing their side not just beaten but ultimately thumped at Lord's and Trent Bridge. And Dhoni felt unable, or unwilling, to give them very much.

It is possible – likely, in fact – that the captain has decided enough words have been spoken and, from now on, only actions will do. India have a two-day practice match against Northamptonshire, starting on Friday, and while that is not much it should be enough to find out whether Sehwag, Zaheer and Gambhir are physically able and mentally willing to face England the following Wednesday.

The same questions, of course, need asking of Harbhajan Singh, Dhoni's vastly experienced spinner, who seemed unable to bowl in Nottingham because of a stomach muscle complaint but was surprisingly able to throw the bat with abandon during the final stages of the Test. For now, though, Sehwag, Zaheer and Gambhir should be India's main concerns.

Sehwag really could make a difference because there are few batsmen in the world who can intimidate bowlers quite so quickly, and completely, as this dashing opener. True, his record against England is not great (average 31 across 11 Tests compared to 53 over an entire 87-match career) but one spectacular innings from him at Edgbaston would do so much for Indian spirits.

It would also give Andrew Strauss the shivers because he and several members of his side remember Sehwag's brilliant knock of 83 off 68 balls that put India on course to chase down a daunting fourth-innings victory target of 387 in Chennai two and a half years ago.

The many lakh rupee question, though, is whether "Veeru" is in the mood for Test cricket these days. He could have had the shoulder operation that he clearly needed a few months ago but instead chose to delay it so he could play in the Indian Premier League – thereby missing India's tour of West Indies and at least the first two matches of this series.

Neither Zaheer nor Gambhir were in the Caribbean, either, for reasons of rest and recuperation. And having bowled in only the first innings of India's one pre-Lord's warm-up match (against Somerset), it was not the biggest surprise when Zaheer went in the hamstring before tea on the opening day of the series.

But even during the 13 overs the left-arm swing bowler managed before breaking down he reminded everyone what a class act he is, dismissing both Strauss and Alastair Cook and scarcely delivering a bad ball. His absence, for most of Lord's and all of Trent Bridge, has been a huge loss for India.

Something similar can be said about Gambhir, who suffered a painful blow on the elbow while fielding at Lord's. Although that was his only Test to date in Britain, he has formed a terrific opening partnership with Sehwag in recent years and the top of India's batting order will have a much more imposing look to it if these two walk out together next week. It would be wrong, of course, to blame more than a bit of India's predicament on injuries. The bottom line is that England have been quite brilliant so far and they deserve great credit for making life look desperately difficult even for superstars such as Sachin Tendulkar (one half-century) and Dhoni (49 runs in four innings).

But surely there must be more to come from these visitors. Mustn't there, MS?

Critics turn on tourists

Times of India

Thousands of those who saw India's craven surrender at Trent Bridge on Monday will find it hard to believe that this is really the world's No 1 Test team. Actually, it isn't. This team is on top of the heap because of a statistical sleight of hand.

Reuters, New Delhi

India's morale-sapping second Test humiliation against England has triggered a desperate wave of soul-searching back home with some former players questioning spinner Harbhajan Singh's place in the side and the appointment of coach Duncan Fletcher.

Indian Express.com

While his [MS Dhoni's] wicketkeeping and his poor form with the bat have come under flak, some former players have also criticised his captaincy during the two Test matches... The coming "10 days" could trigger a shift in Dhoni's approach. He could be up for the biggest scrutiny of his career yet.

The Daily Excelsior

The Indians had to blame themselves for the drubbing as they allowed the hosts to wriggle out of a tight situation on the opening day and then frittered away a good position while batting in the first innings. From then, the visitors could never really get back into the game.

Bishan Bedi, former captain

This team does not deserve to be No 1 Test side in the world. There's no point discussing Harbhajan's lack of flight or lack of spin or his action because we have been doing that for years. He lacks guile, and that's a great handicap for a spinner. The right areas to bowl lie not on the 22 yards but in between your ears, in the mind. A stint in domestic cricket would do him good.

Farokh Engineer, former player

What are these highly paid coaches doing? The results are not showing. What is Fletcher doing? Just because [his predecessor] Gary Kirsten recommends him, is that sufficient to get the job?

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