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Can India salvage lost pride at The Oval?

Last updated on: August 18, 2011 10:02 IST

The Oval track will suit Indian players


Bikash Mohapatra in London

India goes into the fourth Test against England on a track that is batsman-friendly, swing-less, as compared to other English grounds, and will assist spinners as the game progresses, says Bikash Mohapatra.

When a team is down 0-3 in a four-match series, any statistic that is remotely positive can offer a flicker of hope.

Team India's predicament is no different.

Having lost the opening three Tests -- at Lord's, Trent Bridge and Edgbaston, and, consequently, the top spot to England in the ICC rankings, the visitors go into the fourth and final Test, starting Thursday, in the hope of avoiding a series whitewash.

And giving them a boost is the wicket at The Oval, one that is very Indian in nature.

For once, the visitors will get to play on a track that is batsman-friendly, swing-less, as compared to other English grounds, and will assist spinners as the game progresses.

Most of the Indian batsmen have a good-to-decent record at the venue.

Image: Praveen Kumar (left) and Suresh Raina take a break during a nets session at The Oval on Wednesday
Photographs: Getty Images

Oval wicket is expected to produce a feast of runs

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Besides, India has a credible record at the venue -- having drawn seven of the 10 Tests it played there. While England won two of the remaining three -- in 1936 and 1959 respectively, the visitors emerged triumphant in 1971 -- the win helping them record their first series win on English soil.

- History was made at The Oval, 40 years back

Since that famous win, the visitors have not lost a Test at the venue (in five subsequent visits). In fact, they came close to victory in 1979 while chasing a record 438.

The Oval wicket is no different on this occasion as well. It is expected to produce a feast of runs, a fact that augurs well for the Indian batting line-up, one that has belied all expectations thus far, and failed to surpass 300 in six innings.

Image: Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar have a chat during a nets session

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'We expect to put up a good batting performance'

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India's captain MS Dhoni seemed aware what his side needs to do to avoid further embarrassment.

"Putting runs on the board is the only way to put pressure on the English batsmen," he said, on the eve of the Test.

"We expect to put up a good batting performance at The Oval," he added.

The visitors' concern about a whitewash should also be assuaged from the weather forecasts -- one that predicts the heavens to open up during the course of the match and thereby save India the blushes.

Image: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (left) and coach, Duncan Fletcher during the nets session

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Indian bowlers would be a tired lot

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However, despite the many positives, there are also a few factors that can worry the Indian think tank.

The overcast conditions, for example, can be a double-edged sword and help the in-form England bowlers generate considerable seam and swing. The Indian bowlers, on the other hand, would be a tired lot following the heavy workload at Edgbaston just a few days back.

And despite having not beaten India in four decades at The Oval, England do enjoy a good record at the venue, having lost only twice -- against Australia in 2001 and Pakistan last year -- in the last 11 Tests they have played at the venue.

Image: Ishant Sharma (right) bowls in the nets as coach, Duncan Fletcher watches

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'We have our work cut out'

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Besides, the opportunity to complete their first series whitewash against India since 1974 should give the home team's quest considerable fillip.

Spinner Graeme Swann, who has to play a crucial role in ensuring the same, aptly summed up his team's chances.

"We know The Oval is going to be a good batting wicket," he said, adding, "So we have our work cut out.

"But if we can maintain the standards we have set so far, I am sure we can ensure a perfect finish to the series."

Image: Kevin Pietersen (centre) watches Graeme Swann (left) bowl in the nets

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