Indians have to play positively

The Antigua pitch has generally favoured the batsmen, and Brian Lara, in particular, should have happy memories of the St. John's Recreation ground.

It was here that he recorded the highest individual score in Test cricket, and although a knock of 375 happens once in a lifetime even for the truly gifted, Lara will surely look forward to better returns in this series when the fourth Test gets underway.

He has missed out in the first three Tests, not consolidating on starts, which is rare for Lara, for, once set, he has generally gone on to compile huge scores.

The series is delicately balanced at 1-1 with two matches remaining and the side that takes its chances will emerge triumphant. The winning team will also have to be brave.

The Indians have only themselves to blame for letting the West Indians get back into the series. They now have to forget the Barbados Test as a bad dream and play positive cricket.

By positive cricket, I don't mean `hitting out' without reason, but keeping the scoreboard moving with common sense batting. You don't have to take big risks to succeed in Test cricket. Rotating the strike is the best method to prevent the bowlers from settling down, and this can be done with singles.

Runs have eluded Shiv Sundar Das in this series, and he could have turned the tide in the second innings at Barbados, had he backed his ability to play shots. Das occupied the crease for a long while in a purely defensive mould and these tactics hardly pay off, unless a player is blessed with exceptional powers of concentration like Sunil Gavaskar, who could grind the bowling to dust.

Despite his lack of success, Das should be retained, and in fact, the combination of him and Wasim Jaffer should not be disturbed until the end of the series, after which their performances should be assessed. We have to do away with this nonsense of having a new opening pair for every Test.

The Indian pacemen have indeed performed well so far. Coming to the lone slot for spinners, although some are in favour of Anil Kumble returning to the side at the expense of Harbhajan Singh, I believe the off-spinner should figure in the XI.

While it might be true that Harbhajan's overseas record is even worse than that of Kumble, I would still back the Sardar for his ability to beat the batsmen in flight when he finds his rhythm, and turn the ball more, which is important.

The Indian bowlers will always have a chance against this West Indies line-up, where apart from Lara and skipper Hooper, there is no batsman who can produce match-winning knocks. Chanderpaul is a tenacious customer, but not somebody who can alter a course of a game drastically.

This is also a testing period for Ganguly's leadership skills. He has made runs, but now he has the task of motivating his men during a critical phase. He has to tell his batsmen that they have to make every `start' count. Giving it away after doing all the hard work is a recipe for disaster.


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