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Famed Middle-order only missing link in resilent Team India - Partab Ramchand column
by Partab Ramchand
Aug 05, 2008
It speaks volumes of the resilience of the Indian team that they were able to convert a defeat by an innings and 239 runs into a victory by 170 runs in the very next Test and within a week. They really seemed down and out after losing the first Test at Colombo, and especially by such a shocking margin. It isn't easy to come back strongly after having to endure the third heaviest defeat in the country's cricketing history. About the only comparison one can think of occurred nearly half a century ago when the Indians lost to Australia by an innings and 127 runs with a day to spare and roared back within a week defeating their formidable opponents by 119 runs. That victory is still known as the 'Miracle at Kanpur', and while the Galle victory can hardly be called a miracle it is still a highly commendable feat.

In the ultimate analysis, it was the positive approach of the Indians that did the trick. At Colombo, they were strangely diffident, groping forward with more than a degree of uncertainty against Muralitharan and Mendis, unsure about which way the ball would turn. This time, the think tank had obviously decided to go after them and full marks in particular to Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, for implementing the same. The former was at his piratical best and achieved a feat which one would normally not associate with the buccaneering batsman - carrying his bat. It certainly was beyond others of his ilk like Mushtaq Ali and Kris Srikkanth but then the Nawab of Najafgarh has taken the art of swashbuckling batsmanship into another realm. It somehow seems quaint that a supreme technician like Sunil Gavaskar is the only other Indian to achieve this feat. Sehwag's fifth score over the 200 mark put him on par with Rahul Dravid among Indians and it surely is only a matter of time before he stands on the pinnacle all by himself. Sehwag hadn't faced Mendis in the first Test falling early on both occasions but had squared up to him in the Asia Cup final made famous now by Mendis' spell of six for 13 that saw Sri Lanka emerge triumphant. Aware of his responsibility at the top of the order and as one of the senior players Sehwag took it upon himself to tear Mendis apart. The mystery bowler posed no mystery for Sehwag and he was hastily removed after an initial spell of 6-0-37-0. Though he recovered ground to finish with ten wickets in only his second Test Mendis was no more the bowler he was at Colombo and I for one will not be surprised if he is dealt with rather harshly in the decider.

Gambhir who has been in and out of the team for some time now has obviously seen this series as an opportunity to cement his place at the top of the order and has done his cause no harm by adopting an approach that has to be admired. His footwork in playing the spinners has been a revelation and was certainly one reason why the M factor did not work for Sri Lanka at Galle. The seniors would do well to take a leaf from Gambhir's book. The stroke playing left-hander from Delhi is also getting ambitious and was clearly annoyed with himself for missing out on a century in the second innings. That's the kind of attitude that takes you places and Gambhir is on the right track.

The one disturbing factor is the lack of form shown by the seniors in the middle order. This is driven home by the sharp slides in both the innings despite the excellent starts given by Sehwag and Gambhir. A more positive approach would help and as I said the classy and experienced quartet would do well by following the path shown by the openers.

Credit is also due to the bowlers. On such a surface it was expected that the spinners would pick up the lion's share of the wickets but in chipping in with more than useful contributions Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma emerged heroes in their own way. Team work is as important in bowling as well as batting and it was refreshing to see the fast bowlers make timely strikes which made the job of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh that much easier. The spin duo has not achieved much abroad in recent times and this more than anything else has seen their career averages swell to an unacceptable degree. But with Harbhajan emerging as a match-winning off spinner that he has frequently been and with Kumble playing an able supporting role the two matched the efforts of Murali and Mendis and with the batting - read Sehwag and Gambhir - being the decisive factor the Indians emerged deserving winners.

Seven years ago on their last tour India lost the first Test and bounced back in the second only to lose the decider by an innings. It needn't happen this time. The Indians are playing much more positively, the M factor has ceased to be a destructive threat and the tourists have got their act together. All it needs is for the famed middle order to fire and India would well emerge winners of a series in Sri Lanka for the first time since 1993.
 
More Views by Partab Ramchand
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