5 Things India Must Change to Win 4th Test vs. England in Manchester
A dominant England took less than a session to wrap up the remaining six Indian wickets on Day 5 at the Ageas Bowl, thereby winning the third Test by a margin of 266 runs and levelling the series 1-1.
India lost 13 out of 13 sessions in the match and thoroughly deserved to lose. After a sprightly and encouraging win at Lord's, a lot was expected from this team. Unfortunately, Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men just failed to show up in Southampton.
There are a number of reasons why India lost this match. They have got two more games to set things right, starting with the fourth Test in Manchester from August 7.
If India want to hit back at England, here is a list of five basic things they can do to help their cause.
Dhoni Must Get Rid of His Defensive Mindset
There are two things that put India on the back foot even before a single ball was bowled on the first day of the Southampton Test, followed by another one later, which cemented their position.
Dhoni lost an important toss on a more-or-less flat pitch and was asked to bowl by a gleeful Alastair Cook, who took the brave decision to bat first knowing that the ball could do a bit on the first day.
Dhoni said at the toss that it was 50-50 for him without revealing his cards, but you could say that he was happy losing the toss.
If that wasn't a sign of a defensive approach, the next one certainly was.
India's team sheet for the game revealed that they were playing an extra batsman, Rohit Sharma, instead of off-spinning, all-rounder Ravichandran Ashwin, who would be certain to get some purchase off the pitch as the match wore on.
The only reason Dhoni would have felt this was the right way to go was because all-rounder Stuart Binny, who made way for Rohit, only bowled 20 overs over two Tests. If Dhoni didn't need a fifth bowler, he might as well play a sixth batsman, right?
It sounds logical, but it smacks of negativity.
The extra batsman isn't going to help you get 20 wickets, which is the most important ingredient in a Test win. With a line-up that already bats deep—the addition of Ashwin making it deeper—Dhoni and India had certainly missed a trick there.
To make matters worse, Dhoni went on to order his fourth bowler, left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, to bowl a negative middle-and-leg line all through the first innings.
Dhoni's tactics were bewildering to say the least and a complete reversal from what we saw at Lord's, where he was always one step ahead of England. Quite deservedly, the tactics failed miserably.
India need Dhoni to brush away the clouds of negativity surrounding him if they are to get back their lead in this series.
A positive and attacking approach may not guarantee a win, but it would certainly provide far better returns than what transpired at the Ageas Bowl.
Send the Right Message with the Playing XI
The first place where India can infuse some positivity is in their team selection.
Shikhar Dhawan, Mohammed Shami and Rohit Sharma need to be dropped. It may seem a bit unfair on Rohit, since he has just played the one game, but India's best combination would involve only five specialist batsmen, and he just doesn't make the cut.
Ravichandran Ashwin has warmed the bench enough over three Tests, and India would rather have him out there bowling his stock ball and subtle variations than reading books and listening to commentary.
With Old Trafford and The Oval both expected to produce surfaces not too different from the one at the Ageas Bowl, Ashwin must be used as the attacking frontline spinner, with Jadeja as his deputy.
Meanwhile, Gautam Gambhir should come in for Dhawan, who has looked helpless and uncomfortable at the top of the order for six innings. Gambhir comes with loads of experience, and India must see what he has to offer.
As for Shami, the 24-year-old has lost all the zing and accuracy from his debut series last November and looks a tired, hapless fast bowler.
The express pace of Varun Aaron is still lying untapped for India in their 18-man squad and this would be an ideal time to play him. He is prone to breakdowns, but he should be able to survive two Test matches.
These three changes would send out the right message and give India their best chance of mounting a fightback.
Pujara and Kohli Must Get Their Act Together
In the build-up to this series, all the talk surrounding India's batting was about Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli—India's two new middle-order linchpins.
With two successful away series in South Africa and New Zealand behind them, the duo were expected to take England by storm and score oodles of runs.
However, the reality couldn't be more contradictory. What they've managed together in three matches so far (223 runs) is five less than what Bhuvneshwar Kumar, a bowling all-rounder, has accumulated on his own.
The problems in the Kohli's technique and approach to batting has been articulated by this columnist in another piece.
Pujara, on the other hand, has managed to set himself up for the long innings on multiple occasions, only to lose concentration and throw his wicket away. The same could also be said of Kohli in Southampton.
Now is the time when India desperately need big hundreds from these two, something they can only produce if their minds are in the right place.
Bowlers Should Bowl in Right Areas
The sole reason why India conceded close to 570 runs at Southampton was because their bowlers failed to target the right areas and were either too defensive or too inaccurate.
Their performance was a total contrast from what they displayed at Lord's, where their pitch map was perfect to a tee.
The thing that separated India from their English counterparts at Lord's was that they bowled in the right areas.
At Southampton, the roles were reversed, as the Englishmen managed to extract enough pace, bounce and movement off the pitch to bowl India out twice for an aggregate that doesn't even add up to their first-innings total.
With Manchester and the Oval expected to have similar wickets, the Indians should study how England bowled in the third Test and perhaps even revisit their own successes during the second Test.
Ishant Sharma Must Play at Manchester by Any Means
If India's humiliating defeat in the third Test wasn't enough, the dagger was dug further into their spine when Dhoni said at the post-match presentation that Ishant Sharma "definitely won't be fit" for Manchester, as reported by ESPN Cricinfo.
Ishant's absence would come as a massive blow to the visitors. The lanky pacer would have been useful on flat surfaces, as he showed at Trent Bridge.
Following his heroics with the ball at Lord's, it's rather funny how many Indian fans have gone from "Oh no, Ishant!" to "Oh, no Ishant!" All they can hope for now is a miracle.
For all you know, Dhoni could be playing a few mind games and Ishant could be passed fit for Manchester. At least that's what the optimists would like to believe.
The others can only hope that India find a solution, like perhaps getting Mr, Miyagi from The Karate Kid to fix his sore leg.