Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj dropped for Nagpur match

England’s seven-wicket victory over India at the Eden Gardens came within an hour of play on the final day. Set a target of 41 runs to win following a gutsy show by Ravichandran Ashwin, who remained unbeaten on 91, England was home after a brief scare when it lost three wickets for eight. Ian Bell ensured there were no further hiccups by guiding the side home in the company of Nick Compton.

The result brought into focus the role of the back-stage forces in the two camps. England skipper Alastair Cook gave “big credit” to coach Andy Flower and bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed for plotting the Indian debacle.

Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, while praising coach Duncan Fletcher for his “excellent technical reading,” singled out the batsmen for the poor show. Their cross-batted, away-from-body style also invited criticism from many former greats.

India, trailing 1-2 in the four-Test series, made three changes to the squad for the next match at Nagpur. Veterans Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh were dropped for their inconsistent performances.

Dhoni emphasised the need for the batting to click and put the runs on the board.

He sprang to Zaheer’s defence when it was suggested at the media conference that the left-arm fast bowler had bowled below par. “We know his problems. Wish we had the answers. From behind [the stumps] I can say he is fit and has swung the ball both ways. It is just a passing phase. Maybe the batsmen have played him better [in this series],” was Dhoni’s defence of his trusted bowler. Half-an-hour later, he was part of the meeting that dropped Zaheer.

India’s preparation lacked the intensity of the Englishmen, who spent time in Dubai, training in conditions (pitches especially) they were likely to encounter in India. Having former Pakistan leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed “helped” the team immensely while Andy Flower brought a distinct technical gain to the batting approach, straight bat and patience being the mantra.

“We learnt to bat long and purposefully,” remarked Cook, who displayed supreme confidence in playing lofted shots by “stepping out.”

More than the pitch, that caused such furore in the run-up to the Test, it was imperfect preparation that saw India fail to achieve the desired 4-0 whitewash. With another challenge round the corner, India will battle to save the series at Nagpur.

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