NEW DELHI // Virender Sehwag will join his Indian teammates tomorrow, boosting the tourists' hopes of fielding their regular openers for the remaining two Tests against a dominant England side, who have already raced to a 2-0 lead in the four-match series.
"Virender Sehwag will fly to England early tomorrow [Wednesday] morning to join the Indian cricket team," N Srinivasan, secretary of the Indian cricket board (BCCI), said in a statement on today.
Sehwag has been out of action since undergoing shoulder surgery in May and missed the tour of West Indies and India's comprehensive defeats in the first two Tests against England.
His Delhi teammate Gautam Gambhir, who injured his elbow while fielding at Lord's and missed the match in Trent Bridge, is also likely to return to the starting line-up for the third Test beginning on August 10 at Edgbaston.
In Sehwag's absence, the left-handed Abhinav Mukund opened with Gambhir and added 63 runs in the first innings of the Lord's Test but the latter could not open in the second innings after a Matt Prior sweep shot struck his elbow.
Veteran Rahul Dravid deputised as a makeshift opener in the second innings and at Trent Bridge but his individual form notwithstanding, partnerships of 19, zero and six suggest India did not get the starts they were hoping for from their top two. India start a two-day practice match at Northampton on Friday.
The Indian media have lambasted their cricket team for their poor performances, saying MS Dhoni's men should never have been ranked the top Test side.
"India don't deserve to be number one Test side in the world," screamed the front-page of the Times of India, echoing the sentiments of millions in the cricket-mad country.
India must now win at least one of the remaining two Tests and avoid defeat in the other to prevent England from replacing India at the top of the ICC's Test Championship table.
The Times of India said Dhoni's team became the top-ranked Test side only because of a "statistical sleight of hand."
"Thousands of those who saw India's craven surrender at Trent Bridge will find it hard to believe that this is really the world's No 1 Test team," the paper wrote. "Actually, it isn't."
The paper noted that even though India are unbeaten in their last 11 series — winning eight and drawing the other three — they were lucky to make it to the top.
Five of those series wins came at home and the other three were against the lowest-rang Test sides, Bangladesh, the West Indies and New Zealand, the paper said.
Significantly, India could only draw against South Africa or Sri Lanka in the same period.
The Times of India said Dhoni's men approached the crucial England series with "total lack of preparation, physically and mentally, and without the requisite hunger to remain No 1."
"They carried some players with niggles and injuries, and some others, like Harbhajan Singh, by virtue of past reputation.
"The truth is that this Indian team does not seem to have a champion's strength of character. The statistical miracle, sadly, is over."
The Indian Express said the heavy defeats in the first two Tests had exposed the fragility of the team.
"For a tired and ill-prepared team with a listless captain at the helm, the world No 1 tag seems at the moment to be too heavy a responsibility to shoulder," the Express wrote.
"India have looked a jaded, disjointed side with most players showing no stomach or will for a fight."
Cricinfo writer Sharda Ugra said numbers told the story of India's dismal performance.
"Down 0-2 in a four-Test series, defeat by 196 and 319 runs, innings totals of 285, 261, 288 and 158 in the series so far. This is not the India of the perpetual scrap and the high bounce-back-ability quotient," Ugra wrote. "Remember this day in Indian cricket. It could mark either the beginning or the end. We will know in three weeks."
Former players were also quick to weigh-in with criticism with Harbajhan coming under fire the most — particularly from the former off-spinner BS Bedi who called for him to be dropped.
"I think it's a toss-up between Munaf and Mishra now because Harbhajan has played enough on the weight of reputation alone," Bedi said.
"He clearly lacks the confidence. A stint in domestic cricket would do him good.
"As a senior player, if you're not feeling up to it, you should put your hand up and say so. I don't think he deserves such a long rope anymore."
The former opener Angshuman Gaekwad also backs the inclusion of Mishra for Harbhajan in the third test.
"Mental pressure leads to technical problems too. Harbhajan is not bowling like an off-spinner. He has virtually no follow-through and no transfer of weight.
"He is bowling with too much effort and trying to save himself from getting hit. I believe it's better for the team if Amit Mishra is drafted in."
The back-to-back defeats made the former batsman-wicketkeeper Farokh Engineer wonder if Fletcher was the right man to coach India.
"What are these highly-paid coaches doing? The results are not showing. What is Fletcher doing? Just because [predecessor] Gary Kirsten recommends him, is that sufficient to get the job?" Engineer asked in the Hindustan Times newspaper.