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India can put up a strong fight shooting from the hip

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PETER ROEBUCK
PETER ROEBUCK

No longer can Indian touring teams be regarded as pushovers on bouncy tracks

Seldom has an Indian tour of England begun amidst such widespread despondency. Admittedly little was expected from Maharaj Vizianagram’s lopsided outfit in 1936 and not much more from D.K. Gaekwad’s threadbare side in 1959 whilst the Nawab of Pataudi’s team was overwhelmed in the spring of 1967 but that was long ago.

Those touring parties may have embarked with fire in their bellies but they arrived with little powder in their guns and were promptly routed. In those days England seemed a daunting country full of fish and chips, sawdust, sweaters and seam bowlers. Nowadays teams are much better prepared. Otherwise India has often surpassed itself on that chilly little island.

Proudest moments

Indeed England has witnessed some of India’s proudest cricketing moments. Supporters cherish the famous victory in 1971 when B.S. Chandrasekhar’s top-spinners and googlies befuddled the cream of English batting.

Most of the batsmen might as well have been reading Dostoevsky. Nor will fans forget Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly introducing themselves to Lord’s in style or the audacious, skilful triumph secured in Leeds last time around.

If the premature defeats pointed towards an inability to adapt to unfamiliar conditions, these victories and numerous other valiant performances proved that Indian cricketers are made of sterner stuff than had been supposed.

Better balanced

For all sorts of historical and cultural reasons, the early teams depended upon a few tried and trusted players. As time passed the side became better balanced and harder to beat. Regular overseas trips also helped, so that players did not take long to adjust to conditions.

No longer can Indian touring teams be regarded as pushovers on bouncy tracks. The last few years count amongst India’s finest. Amidst the high expectations of the period, it is a point easily forgotten.

Certainly the past has not been without its glories but the side did not always travel well and often lacked depth; nor was wrangling always suppressed in the name of the common weal. Although always popular and attractive, Indian sides were inclined to disappoint. Sooner or later they had to lose their charm.

In that regard, Gavaskar was ahead of his time. He did not merely want to win. He craved success, saw it as a means for personal and national salvation. Now a different tale is told. Robustness counts amongst the qualities detected in the teams led by Ganguly and Dravid.

Flash-in-the-tandoori types have been replaced by warriors and, especially in Test cricket, the team had rarely been easily subdued. Epic series have been played against Australia. Rivals cannot claim half as much.

Batting remains strong

Accordingly the gloom that accompanies this 2007 touring party is too thick. Despite the failures in one-day cricket, the batting remains strong and experienced. The middle-order is particularly powerful.

Cynics will say that it is stronger on paper than in practice but these proven practitioners cannot be discounted, Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar have runs left in them. Moreover the Indians will appreciate playing in the second half of the summer.

India has also chosen its side without fear or favour. Dropping Virender Sehwag sends a message to incumbents and hopefuls alike. Reputation is no longer enough; runs and wickets alone count. Commitment is expected and as a rule teams respond well to decisions of this sort. They help to focus attention on the opposition and not on internal matters.

India can be expected to put up a strong fight. For some it might be a last hurrah — all the more reason to steel themselves, so that they can finish worthily.

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