Indian batsmen mean business

THE most striking aspect of India's stupendous batting displays in the second and third Tests has been the change in the attitude of our batsmen. They have not just made runs, but have got them in a glorious manner.

I have always been a believer in positive batting and if you look at the most successful sides in Test cricket over the years, they always had players who seldom allowed the bowlers to dominate.

In contemporary cricket, the Australians have shown the way to the rest of the world. The Aussies get their runs at a fast clip, 300 per day is the minimum, and there is so much time left for the bowlers to get the job done.

If you go further back, the West Indians under Clive Lloyd, with glittering strokemakers like Gordon Greenidge, Roy Fredericks, Vivian Richards, Alvin Kallicharran, Lloyd himself and Lawrence Rowe, rattled up the runs pretty quickly.

Cricket is a game where it becomes extremely important to put the opposition on the back-foot psychologically, and there is no better way to accomplish this than by getting runs at a healthy clip, which also means the pressure is gradually built up on the opposition.

Let's get back to India's campaign in England. The team could so easily have gone down 0-2 in the second Test, where the side was face to face with another heavy defeat.

Yet, when India began its second innings, and with nearly five sessions to cope with, the chances of surviving in the Test, and indeed the series, appeared bleak.

Here came the turnaround. The Indians not only managed to save the game, but did so with a wonderful blend of attack and defence. They realised only too well that a dour approach alone would not be sufficient and decided to pick up runs at a brisk pace as well.

The Indian approach appeared planned. India lost two early second innings wickets at Nottingham, and Sachin Tendulkar, in his 'so called' poor form, joined a defiant Rahul Dravid. This is where the tide began to turn.

Dravid held his end up, Tendulkar went for his strokes, and India ended the fourth day with a glimmer of hope. And on the final day, Tendulkar continued to dominate before he fell eight short of what would have been a memorable century, and then, Dravid and Ganguly kept the good work going.

Dravid has been among runs in a big way in England, and given his ability to adapt so easily to the different conditions, this does not surprise me at all. He is the rock, the foundation, and the team consolidates on his efforts.

He has handled the bounce and the seam and swing movement like the champion batsman that he is, but he has, during his match-saving second innings at Nottingham and at Headingley also dished out some memorable strokes, such as the back-foot drives on the off-side, and delicate flicks.

Dravid has breathed defiance, when there was enormous pressure at Nottingham and when the conditions were challenging like on the first day of the Headingley Test, and has done so with a dash of aggression as well.

Tendulkar... well what can I say about him? He is such an attacking player that the runs are bound to come in a hurry on more occasions than not, when he is around.

Skipper Sourav Ganguly is a natural stroke-maker too and the left-hander has batted with such freedom in the second and third Tests, that he has made light of the burdens of captaincy.

So, if we look at the Indian batting line-up now, No. 3 Dravid can frustrate, blunt and milk the best of attacks, while Tendulkar, Ganguly, and V.V.S. Laxman can really launch into the bowling. Then there is the destructive Virender Sehwag at the very top of the order.

It was India's positive batting at Nottingham and not just stonewalling efforts that enabled them to earn a draw from a precarious situation, with the target for England increasing with each telling stroke.

And at Leeds, after Dravid, with Sanjay Bangar lending a helping hand, had seen India through a demanding first day, when there was considerable assistance to the seamers, Tendulkar and Ganguly waded into the English attack on the second day, and the Test had got away from the home side. From that point on, only one team would be calling the shots.

In other words, the Indian batsmen paced their innings well, going on the offensive at just about the right time, and charting out a victory path. The bowlers not only had a 600-plus score to back them, but also had plenty of time to bowl England out twice.

Importantly, as we saw in Trent Bridge and Leeds, there was no dearth of partnerships in the Indian innings. In fact, in the third Test, there were three successive century stands: Dravid-Bangar, second wicket, Dravid-Tendulkar, third, Tendulkar-Ganguly, fourth. Partnerships hold the key to the fortunes of any side, and in Nottingham too, Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly had strung together invaluable stands.

And the bowlers accomplished the job, bowling with common sense, adhering to line and length. Spinners Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, in conditions not really suited to spin, combined effectively, and if they can accomplish this more often, India could win a lot more outside the sub-continent. In fact, they have to use the Leeds triumph as the launching pad for future conquests.

Sanjay Bangar displayed good temperament with the bat, donned the role of a support seamer well, and his display took my mind back to the Headingley Test of '86, where Madan Lal, playing in the minor counties, was recalled out of the blue for the second Test, since the team management was not too keen on selecting Manoj Prabhakar who was in the Indian squad.

Madan Lal, not only picked up wickets bowling seamers, but also chipped in with the bat, and India had rediscovered a useful performer. That was also a Test, where Dilip Vengsarkar came up with a superb hundred, with the ball moving around. It was indeed a fantastic performance by Vengsarkar at Leeds, and 16 years later, three Indians produced fine hundreds in one innings at the same venue! And on both occasions, India won comprehensively!