Careers on line as under-fire India take on England

Nagpur: Down in the dumps after back-to-back defeats, India's under-fire cricketers will have to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and compete on equal footing against a confident England in the perform-or-perish fourth and final Test commencing here tomorrow.

Trailing the buoyant visitors 1-2 in the rubber after being outplayed in the second and third encounters at Mumbai and Kolkata, the home players need to sort themselves out on several fronts to level the series at the VCA Stadium in Jamtha.

Under-performing senior players in the Indian line-up, including skipper Mehendra Singh Dhoni and veteran batsman Sachin Tendulkar, are under severe pressure not only to lift the side with supreme personal efforts but also to save their careers after India's spineless displays at the Wankhede Stadium and the Eden Gardens.

It would need a monumental display of grit and determination from several below-par players if India are to bounce back from this dismal situation and prevent England from walking off with their first Test series win in India in 28 years.

The home team needs to buck up not just in one department but in several to stop the visiting team from running away triumphant for the first time since David Gower's outfit in 1984-85.

Indian openers Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag have been pretty casual in their approach thus far, in stark contrast to the grinding efforts of rival skipper Alastair Cook, England's top batsman in the series, and rookie Nick Compton, who has slowly and steadily found his feet after a nervous debut in Ahmedabad's opening Test.

The middle order has been pathetic with only Cheteshwar Pujara showing spunk in the first two Tests before going off the boil.

Tendulkar, in the autumn of his glorious career, has looked a pale shadow of his former self, garnering just 110 runs in five innings thus far.

Someone like Virat Kohli, who was the best batsman for the team in Australia, has fallen away so much to casual shots that he has mustered a pathetic 85 runs in six innings, an indication of the malaise afflicting the team.

Dhoni has been poor with the bat and behind the stumps too, with just a lone half century in the previous game to crow about and his head is on the chopping block more than anyone else's even though he has been defiant in his statements.

"The easiest thing for me to say right now is to say, 'I quit captaincy' and be a part of the side. But that's like running away from the responsibility. Of course there are others who will decide. There is BCCI and the administrative people who also want to look into that", he had said after India were handed a seven-wicket defeat at the Eden Gardens.

However, it is difficult to see him retained at the helm if India lose the series after having led the country to two massive defeats recently – the 0-4 whitewashes in England and Australia.

To give an impetus to the non-performing middle order, the Indian selectors have chopped the under-performing Yuvraj Singh from the squad and brought in the in-form Ravindra Jadeja and the Saurashtra all-rounder is almost certain to make his Test debut.

The 24-year-old, who has played 58 ODIs, comes into the do-or-die encounter on the strength of his national record that includes a third triple hundred in first class cricket against a weak Railways attack on the shirtfront wicket at Rajkot and would find the cauldron of Test cricket a different kettle to master.

Where he can make some difference is not only in the number of overs he would bowl his left-arm spin but also at the pace at which he delivers, slightly faster than Pragyan Ojha who has been the standout player with the ball for the team 19 wickets in three games at a decent average of 25.

Jadeja can certainly complement the style of Ojha and the off-spin of Ravichandran Ashwin, who has not looked the part of a Test bowler except in the closing stages of the Kolkata game when he concentrated on sticking to a correct line and limiting his variations to the minimum.

The other spinner, who has been included in the squad at the expense of Harbhajan Singh, leg spinner Piyush Chawla would bring in some more variety if picked in the eleven.

India have also dropped the out-of-form Zaheer Khan and replaced him with Delhi pacer Parwinder Awana.

But Ishant Sharma and Ashok Dinda, yet to play his first Test, appear to be the two first-choice pacers for the hosts and Awana may have to wait for his chance.

While India have a load of problems to confront, England are having very few and are expected to retain the winning eleven for the series finale.

They can sit on the 2-1 lead by playing for a draw here, but it's fraught with danger and captain Cook has responded in a similar fashion after the team's victory in the third match.

"Definitely (a win would be on our mind). You can't go into that game with that (draw) mentality. We have to do same as we have done in these last two games (at Mumbai and Kolkata). And again, produce the goods," said Cook amassed 548 runs with centuries to boot in each of the three Tests so far.

While Cook has led from the front with aplomb, the other leading batsmen have rallied around him, with top batsman Kevin Pietersen playing the defining knock in the Mumbai Test and Matt Prior and Compton playing the supporting roles with panache.

The bowlers too have delivered and it is not only the spinners – Monty Panesar (16 wickets in 2 Tests) and Graeme Swann (17 in 3). The fast bowlers – James Anderson and fit-again Steven Finn – have also proved their worth by using reverse swing to telling effect in Kolkata.

Vice-captain Stuart Broad has aggravated his heel injury and may not be available for selection though even otherwise he might sit out.

A series victory here for England would be the icing on the cake for their mixed show in 2012 during which they lost to South Africa at home and went down without a whimper against Pakistan in the UAE.

The wicket at the Jamtha stadium appears to be a dry one and should aid spin bowling quite early.

This has been a result-oriented pitch as the last three games have ended in a result, two in favour of India (against Australia and New Zealand) and one against (against South Africa).