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07.09.2018  Author: C.NAMASIVAYAM

The Indians are playing their last Test match of the current England series at the Oval Cricket Ground, London. On the eve of this Test match, let us travel back to the ancient times to evaluate the odds of the current Indian team to come up trumps at the Oval.

1. Team India's overall record at the Oval

The Indians have so far played 12 Test matches at the Oval and won only one in 1971 and lost as many as 4 Test matches. The remaining 7 matches ended in a draw. The 4 defeats were crushing defeats.

In the four Test matches that they lost to England at the Oval, three were by an innings and one by 9 wickets. And more importantly, the last 2 of those innings defeats had come in the last 2 matches that the Indians played at the Oval in 2011 and 2014.

2. Team India's recent record at the Oval

a) India's Tour of England in 2014
In India's last tour of England in 2014, India had managed to draw the first Test match at Nottingham and won the second Test match at Lords. This was the best start one could ever dream off. It was only from the Third Test at Southampton things started going horribly wrong for India. By the time Dhoni's men reached the fifth and final Test at the Oval, India were trailing by 1-2. On theory, the Indians were in with a realistic chance of levelling the series at the Oval but the momentum was with England.

England Captain Alastair Cook won the toss and elected to bowl. At the blink of an eye, India were reduced to 44 for 6 and then on to 90 for 9. Captain Dhoni in partnership with Ishant Sharma added 58 runs for the last wicket. India finally reached 148 in the first innings and Dhoni was the last man out for 82. When England batted in the first innings, Joe Root scored an unbeaten 149 to take the England first innings score onto 486.

When India started their second innings with a deficit of 338 runs, it was the familiar story once again and India were blasted out for just 94 runs. England won this Test match by an innings and 244 runs. The match got over in three days inside 206 overs .

England won that series 3-1.

b) India's Tour of England in 2011
This series happened immediately after India's famous World Cup win in 2011. India came into this series with lot of hopes and aspirations. But this tour turned out to be a nightmare as India lost the four-test series by 4-0. Notably, it was Team India's first series loss in Test matches under Dhoni.

When both India and England assembled for the fourth and final Test of the series at the Oval, England has already taken an unassailable lead of 3-0 in the series. England once again won the toss and elected to bat first. Helped by a 235 from Ian Bell and 175 from Kevin Pieterson, England declared their first innings closed at 591 for 6.

In reply, India made 300 in the first innings on the back of an unbeaten 146 from the wall. Rahul Dravid came in as an opener in this match and carried his bat through.

Asked to follow on, India did no better in the second innings and were all out for 283. 84 of those 283 runs were scored by night-watchman Amit Mishra. Raina got a pair in this match. England won the match by an innings and 8 runs.

With that Oval loss, Team India conceded the No1 Test ranking position to England. From the dizzy heights of the World Cup win in April'2011 to IPL trophy in May' 2011, Dhoni's world came crashing down in August'2011 at the Oval Cricket Ground in England.

3. Team India's only win at the Oval

Team India's only win at the Oval came in 1971 under Ajit Wadekar. Ajit Wadekar had just led India to a series win in the West Indies for the first time with a young opening batsman by name Sunil Gavaskar scoring 774 runs in four Tests.

The Firs two Test matches of the series had ended in a draw before the series moved onto the Oval for the decider. England took a sizeable lead of 71 runs in the first innings and the match seemed headed for a third successive draw. Then B.S. Chandrasekhar struck. He took 6 for 38 and England were bowled out for 101 in the second innings. This left India with a target of 172 runs to win the Test and with that the series.

The run chase was not so smooth as both the openers got out cheaply. But Wadekar and Sardesai put on 39 crucial runs for the third wicket before Wadekar ran himself out. That brought G.R. Viswanath to the crease and he added 48 runs with Dilip Sardesai. However, both the batsmen got out one after the other with the target still 40 runs away. In the end, it was wicket-keeper Farokh Engineer who took India to that famous win.

It was India's first Test win in England. It was also India's first series win in England.

4. India's most memorable Test match at the Oval till date

It was the third Test of the 1979 series. England were leading the series 1-0. In this Test match Sunil Gavaskar played an unforgettable innings in one of the greatest run chases in Test matches.

England had set India a target of 438 runs. Gavaskar took charge from the beginning with Chetan Chauhan and Dilip Vengsarkar playing supporting roles. He began slowly but accelerated as the target came within reach. His opening stand with Chauhan produced 213 runs. Chauhan made 80 runs. Gavaskar put on 153 runs for the second wicket with Vengsarkar who scored 52. At one stage India were comfortably placed at 366 for 1 when Vengsarkar got out.

It was then Captain Venkataraghavan made a bizarre decision to promote the young and inexperienced Kapil Dev to No 4. Kapil Dev got out to the third ball he faced going for a big hit and caught on the boundary. Perhaps a more mature batsman like G.R. Vishwanath could have taken India to a famous win.

Gavaskar's magnificient innings came to an end at 221 runs with the Indian score at 389 just 50 runs away from the target. But India collapsed thereafter . When the last two balls of the Test match were to be bowled, India were 8 runs away from the target and England were two wickets away from a win. All the three results were possible at that stage.

The last over was bowled by Peter Willey. When Bharat Reddy failed to score off the 5th ball of the over, the match ended in a mutual draw without completing the over. This Oval Test match will forever be remembered for Gavaskar's innings of 221 on a fifth day pitch and India's valiant attempt to reach a fourth innings target of 438 runs.

5. Other memorable moments for Team India at the Oval

In the 7 Test matches that ended in a draw at the Oval, the Indians have had their moments.

1. Vijay Merchant's innings of 128 in 1946
2. Kapil Dev's 97 in 1982
3. Ravi Shastri's 187 and Kapil Dev's 110 in 1990
4. Rahul Dravid's innings of 217 in 2002
5. Anil Kumble's surprising century in 2007

6. Reasons for Team India's poor performance at the Oval

1. The Oval wicket is the one wicket in England which somewhat resembles to the wickets in India. Traditionally the Oval wicket is a slow and low wicket assisting the spinners though its nature has changed over a period of time. The teams from Asia are made to believe at home at the Oval. At times, it gives them a false sense of security and are taken by surprise when the going gets tough.

2. The Oval always hosts the last Test match of a series, be it a three-match series or a five-match series. By the time visiting teams like India reach the Oval , the players are mentally and physically drained. The players' mind will be on the flight back home. By the time a Test match starts at the Oval , the series would have been lost and injury problems would have cropped up, fatigue would have set in and the players would be in no mental frame of mind to give their best.

7. Team India's chances at the Oval in 2018

The Indian players of the current series are aware that history is against them at the Oval. But they can take heart from the fact that the Oval was the one venue in England where India managed more number of draws than any other venues in England. The nature of the pitch and the fickle English weather contributed a lot in that respect. But the Indians need more than a draw to restore pride.

In order to achieve an improbable win at the Oval, the Indians should get the following right:

1. Win the toss, bat first and put runs on the board.
2. The Batsmen should come to the party.
3. Select the best possible playing XI.
4. Get the England tail out quickly.
5. Field better especially in the slips

To conclude, past history is only an indicator and not a conviction of what will happen in the future. Let us hope Team India defy past history and fashion a different story this time around by winning the last Test at the Oval. It would be a fitting finish to an absorbing series.