Indians face tough time against injury-hit Eng team

Published: Wednesday, August 21, 2002, 22:15 [IST]
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London: England supporters were understandably fearful in the build-up to the current Test series about the damage India's powerful batting line-up would inflict upon their attack. But now that England leads the four-match campaign 1-0, despite a host of injuries to its frontline seamers, it is India's bowlers who have been placed under the spotlight ahead of Thursday's third Test at Headingley. Neither in the 170-run first Test defeat at Lord's nor the drawn second Test at Trent Bridge has India looked like bowling England out twice.

Left-arm quick Zaheer Khan has frequently performed well, albeit often without much luck, but the form of his new-ball partner, and fellow left-armer Ashish Nehra has caused concern. Nehra's five wickets in the series to date have come at an expensive average of 63.80 and, in the absence of the Test-retired Javagal Srinath, India badly needs him to find his form. Equally the support bowling has been a problem. India was handicapped by Anil Kumble's absence due to a calf injury as England piled up 617 at Trent Bridge.

Now, despite Headingley's reputation as a seamer-friendly surface, India may well decide to play both off spinner Harbhajan Singh and leg spinner Kumble - their two bowlers of proven world-class. Even England, which opted for an all seam attack at Trent Bridge, is giving serious consideration to playing left-arm spinner Ashley Giles. And to be fair to the Headingley ground staff, the quick bowlers have not always been on top in recent seasons. For example, last year England batsman Mark Butcher played the innings of his life, an unbeaten 173, to give Nasser Hussain's side an extraordinary victory over Australia.

India star Sachin Tendulkar spent a season at Headingley as a 19-year-old when he became Yorkshire's first overseas player in 1992 and will come into this match with confidence high after his 92 in India's rearguard action at Trent Bridge. Rahul Dravid's 115 and Ganguly's dashing 99, also in the second innings, showed that some of India's stars were finding their form. But, if India is to keep alive its hopes of winning a first Test series outside the sub-continent in 16 years, it must make a competitive first innings score. Initial totals of 221 at Lord's and 357 at Trent Bridge have left India on the backfoot from an early stage.

Opening bat Wasim Jaffer has struggled in particular, averaging a lowly 14.75 from four innings. He could yet lose his place to Shiv Sunder Das who made an impressive double century against Essex in India's final warm-up match last week. Das may find himself up against recalled England fast bowler Andrew Caddick, in what would also be the Somerset quick's first Test of the series. Caddick, who missed the first two Tests with a side strain will hope that reports of Headingley's newly-discovered docility have been greatly exaggerated. New Zealand-born Caddick starred at Headingley two years ago in an astonishing two- day victory over the West Indies.

He took five for 14 in the second innings, including four wickets in one spellbinding over, as the West Indies was bowled out for 61. But whether he will line-up alongside Andrew Flintoff remains to be seen. The Lancashire all-rounder is still struggling with the groin injury that has hampered him throughout the series and England has yet to make a decision on his fitness. Other injuries have been more clear-cut.

Fast bowler Darren Gough is still out with a knee problem while all-rounder Craig White has sustained an abdominal tear. Meanwhile, England's two batsmen of the past 12 months continue to be sidelined albeit for vastly different reasons. Marcus Trescothick's thumb injury is something the England management can monitor; far harder for them to assess is the mental state of Graham Thorpe. The Surrey left-hander's indefinite break from all cricket, due to personal problems associated with the collapse of his marriage, announced after the first Test at Lord's is not expected to end before the conclusion of the English season.

Given their combined absence it is all the more impressive that England made 617 - it's highest score for 12 years - in the last Test. It all puts claims that India's preparations have been 'disrupted' by a contract row with the International Cricket Council (ICC) ahead of next month's Champions Trophy into perspective.

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