Chastened India look to clear the cobwebs

Updated: 12 December 2012 12:23 IST

The Indian cricketers, even the best of them, have been called names in recent times, their priorities have been questioned, their reputations tarred. But no one, no top-level sportsperson likes to lose.

Chastened India look to clear the cobwebs

There have been question marks, of varying sizes, against practically all members of the Indian Test team bar, possibly, Pragyan Ojha. And at least two of them - Virat Kohli and Ishant Sharma - showed, two afternoons before the fourth and final Test in Nagpur, that they were smarting from their failures.

This is not to say that the other players in the team weren't serious, they were, but Kohli and Ishant reached the Vidarbha Cricket Association ground in Nagpur at least an hour before the scheduled optional practice session. Ishant spent a fair bit of time in the stadium, stretching, doing a bit of weight training, running, before going across to the nets where he had an extended bowling session.

Kohli wasn't too far behind, batting for around half an hour before taking a break and joining the other members who turned up (everyone bar R Ashwin, who took a break, and the five players engaged with their Ranji Trophy teams - Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Ashok Dinda, Parvinder Awana and Piyush Chawla - who were set to join the team on Wednesday).

Pickings of 134 wickets at an average of 38.17 from 46 Tests might ordinarily mean no 47th match for the bowler in question, but such is the poverty of India's bowling resources at the moment that Ishant was likely to be the pace spearhead in Nagpur in the absence of Zaheer Khan. Neither Awana nor Dinda have played Test cricket yet and it was likely that the wait would continue for at least one, with the chances of India playing three seamers being virtually zero. The almost white pitch in Jamtha meant there were some wry jokes about India playing an all-spin attack, but the Mumbai experience will make Dhoni think twice about putting all his eggs in one basket.

Kohli also stood at an interesting juncture in his career. There have certainly been no thoughts of putting him on notice, but scores of 19, 14*, 19, 7, 6 and 20 in the ongoing series would be cause for worry to anyone, especially the man touted as the future of Indian batting.

The scoreline read 1-2 for India after the Kolkata Test and the sense of hurt in the ranks was fairly evident.

The Indian cricketers, even the best of them, have been called names in recent times, their priorities have been questioned, their reputations tarred. But no one, no top-level sportsperson likes to lose. Even today, 23 years and 26 days after he first played Test cricket, Sachin Tendulkar spent a good 15 minutes surveying the match pitch, shadow batting at both ends and having an animated chat with ground staff. Whether he should be in the team or not is a separate debate; he looked desperate to succeed. His schedule, on the day, also included long chats with Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, two other senior batsmen in the team, and Duncan Fletcher, the team coach.

And then, when local boy Umesh Yadav, out with an injury, swung by for a catch-up with his mates in jeans and a t-shirt, it was only Fletcher who shouted out a "How're you doing, Umesh?" in the middle of giving slip catching practice to Cheteshwar Pujara (remember the costly drop off Alastair Cook in Kolkata?). A couple of smiles and waves was all Yadav got from the others - no one was going to take a break from practice. Not two days before a Test match whose result could mean much more than just another Test result if the outcome is anything but a win for India.

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