Pressure on Indian batsmen to perform in second Test

Published: Wednesday, August 7, 2002, 23:30 [IST]
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Trent Bridge (England): Even as the Indians look for the right bowling combination, it is the batsmen who would be in focus as they seek to improve their performances in the second Test against England starting on Thursday. Despite having a star-studded batting line-up, the Indians were unable to match the huge score of England in the first innings of the first Test at Lord's and had to go down by 170 runs.

Skipper Saurav Ganguly has already made it clear that he will go in with the same 12 players in Thursday's match, and that would mean there would be no change in the top and middle-order batting line-up. It is up to the batsmen now to live up to their big reputations. The man in the spotlight would obviously be Sachin Tendulkar. The world's greatest batsman had scores of 16 and 12 in the first Test and is coming increasingly under attack from critics who have highlighted his repeated failures in pressure games. But even as reams of print were being written about how England bowlers had sorted him out with their innovative techniques, Tendulkar hit a fiery 167 in the four-day game against Worcestershire to announce his presence.

And for the benefit of all those who were doubting his capabilities, he said he knew very well what he was doing and what he needed to do. That in itself is an ominous sign for England because Tendulkar seems determined to silence his critics now. As England captain Nasser Hussain himself said players like Tendulkar cannot be expected to be 'kidding around' for long. In fact, apart from Tendulkar, and Ganguly himself, every other top batsman had at least one decent hit in the first Test. What was lacking was their conversion into big scores and a good partnership to anchor the side.

Ganguly's insistence on the same 12 means Shiv Sunder Das would once again be left out. Virender Sehwag and Wasim Jaffer had one half-century knock each in the first Test but in both innings they were unable to prevent an early loss of wicket, which is so essential for putting up a big score. Rahul Dravid and V V S Laxman are two batsmen who have flourished abroad and they did so in the first Test too. But Ganguly, who has a century at this ground on his debut tour of 1996, is in desperate need of runs. He was happy to see the condition of the wicket here. After inspecting the pitch on Monday, Ganguly said it looked exactly like the one he scored his hundred on. On Tuesday evening, the groundsmen had shaved whatever little grass remained on the track, which should suit the Indian batsmen fine.

However, the issue giving the Indians headache right now is who to select between Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. All indications are that the team management has once again reconciled to picking only one spinner - partly due to the fact that Ajit Agarkar cannot be ignored after his brilliant hundred at Lord's. Kumble's calf muscle injury is nothing serious but the team management is wary of risking him in this match. Barring last minute changes, Harbhajan Singh is most likely to replace him in the side as the only change in the playing XI. England, on the other hand, is faced with much more serious injury worries.

The hosts, who had gone in the first Test without three of their frontline bowlers, now have to contend with the exclusion of Simon Jones, who made a breezy debut at Lord's. With Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick remaining on the injury list, England have almost decided to blood youngster Steve Harmison in their fast bowling ranks though Alex Tudor and Dominic Cork also give an option. England has also been jolted by the absence of Graham Thorpe who has opted out due to personal reasons. His place is most likely to be taken by Kent opener Robert Key.

The inclusion of Key, who is averaging in the high 40s in county cricket this year, will also provide more balance to the English batting line-up because Mark Butcher would come at number three, a position he is more comfortable at. England has been doing extremely well with its depleted resources under the inspirational leadership of Hussain and it would be hoping to come up with a performance similar to the one at Lord's. The weather forecast is not very encouraging though, with mild thundershowers predicted for Wednesday and heavy showers for Saturday.

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