09 August 2007

Oval

India have not lost a Test match at The Oval in god-knows-how-long. It is also the location of one of India's most celbrated triumphs - one that apparently convinced the Indian sports fan that his team need not always get whipped. Occasionally it could whip as well, and B S Chandrasekhar in a magnificient spell, showed them it could be done. The last time that India was there, rain and sublime batting from Vaughan and Dravid played out a draw.

India returns to there to play a Test match, whose significance in the context of Indian cricket cannot be overstated. A series victory over England is a treasure, and the golden generation of Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and Kumble have not experienced it. True, that thanks to their efforts over the last five years, India can no longer be called bad tourists, but a series victory has continued to elude them because they caved in when it was there for the taking. Melbourne, Karachi, Bridgetown and most recently Cape Town, are just the most glaring examples.

Where India have a record to erase, England have a proud record to protect: a long streak of remaining unbeaten at home. And England will come hard. It will try and forget the frailities in the batting: outside of Vaughan and Pietersen, everyone has a question mark over their form. But there is no questioning the ability of Cook, Strauss, Collingwood and Bell. India will need to bowl superbly again, and this time, with the bounce available at the Oval, both Kumble and Sree Santh will need to punch their weight. As far as batting goes, the Fab Four seem to have got their act in order though Laxman's double failure against Lanka A could be a cause for concern. Hopefully, the openers will continue to grow into a solid pair. It will also be interesting to see how Dhoni reacts to the conditions, given that the Oval is not known to heavily favour movement.

It has been a very keenly contested series so far. Despite Lords, the series has stood on a knife-edge all along, and it looks set to be a fitting culmination. If India bat to the weight of their reputation, they should not lose. And that will be very sweet indeed.