Indian stars under big pressure from resilient England

Published: Tuesday, August 6, 2002, 20:54 [IST]
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London: India goes into Thursday's second Test against England at Trent Bridge knowing that its big names need to produce performances worthy of their reputations. Crucially, on a good batting pitch at Lord's, India's much-vaunted top order failed to produce runs in the first innings, a total of 221 well short of the mark.

Inevitably in the aftermath of such a display, most attention focused on Sachin Tendulkar. Scores of 16 and 12 led to critics pointing out how his record overseas is so much worse than at home. Only eight of Tendulkar's 29 Test hundreds, two on foreign shores, have resulted in India victories. That has led to talk that while the 29-year-old is a great accumulator of runs he plays an insufficient number of match-winning innings for a cricketer of his talent. Tendulkar himself is well aware of the criticism. Earlier this year he admitted his own unhappiness at his own batting form late in a Test - his second innings average of 31.9 during the past three years is 31.9 with no hundreds compared with a career 56.96.

"I have been disappointed with myself ... I have to learn to finish Tests." However one person who has not jumped on the bandwagon knocking Tendulkar is England's Madras-born captain Nasser Hussain. "We can't expect to keep kidding them out for four Tests. If Ganguly, Sehwag or Tendulkar gets in and makes a big hundred that will be our biggest test," Hussain warned following his side's victory at Lord's. And Hussain's reference to some of the other major forces in the India batting line- up tells its own story. India's problems abroad have not so much stemmed from Tendulkar 'failures' as the fact that no-one else has consistently succeeded either. England, however, does deserve credit for its tactics at Lord's where its pace bowlers went around the wicket to Tendulkar and other India players early in their innings.

On the whole the English bowlers maintained a disciplined line and length, cramping the batsmen for room and frustrating them into error. Now the question is can India respond if England uses similar ploys again. Certainly its top order looks to have sufficient talent available while Tendulkar played himself into form nicely with 169 in India's rain-affected final warm-up match against Worcestershire. "Sachin is on the way back. We have no worries about his form," India tour manager Ranga Reddy told said. On the bowling front India, despite impressive new-ball work from left-armers Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, still looked a class performer light. In the absence of Test-retired pace spearhead Javagal Srinath and with off spinner Harbhajan Singh omitted despite a dry pitch, Ajit Agarkar's gentle medium-pace was a poor substitute.

England twice got away after seeing off the opening duo but thoughts of dropping Agarkar were complicated by his second innings hundred - his maiden Test century. And if there is moisture in the pitch with conditions overcast, Agarkar's bowling could yet prosper. Even so, it is hard to see how Harbhajan could be sidelined again. For England, the routine problem of being unable to field its chosen XI because of injury has arisen again. Paceman Simon Jones, who had a lively debut at Lord's, is out with a side strain while fast bowlers Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick remain injured.

The gap in the England attack is set to be filled either by the uncapped Steve Harmison or the recalled Alex Tudor although all-rounder Dominic Cork remains an option. Meanwhile Graham Thorpe's withdrawal from all cricket in the wake of bitter divorce proceedings has created a vacancy in the batting order. It will be filled by England debutant and Kent opener Robert Key with Mark Butcher dropping down to his favoured position of number three. Once more England will take the field with a weakened side. But, as India found out at Lord's, talent may be good but it is not enough in itself. England's resilience must be matched if India is to draw level.

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