Leeds (England): Even as the controversy surrounding ICC's sponsorship policy refuses to die down, the Indians go into the third Test against England on Thursday trying to shift their focus from the administrators back home to their opponents on the field.
The controversial ICC agreement for next month's Champions Trophy has engaged most of the players' attention in the last few days, though a fruitful outing in a four- day game against Essex would have given them the confidence to go for the kill in their efforts to square the four-match series 1-1.
Even while taking on the establishment back home and refusing to sign an agreement, which can cause them legal and financial damages, the Indians have been practicing regularly to maintain their focus on the game. In fact, the situation in not entirely new for them. Last year, as ICC and Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) were on warpath following controversial punishments meted out to six Indian players including Sachin Tendulkar on alleged ball-tampering charges in South Africa, the Indians played a Test against the hosts and earned a respectable draw under tremendous pressure.
Saurav Ganguly and his men had an extensive practice session on Tuesday and also had a good look at the wicket, which is reputed to be a seamer's paradise but expected to play a little slow. The Indians are expected to make a few changes in their squad with Orissa opener Shiv Sunder Das almost certain to make a return following his huge 250 against Essex. However, India's real concern lies in its bowling department, which has failed to contain a rampaging England batting line-up. The three seamers - Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Ajit Agarkar - have been found unequal to the task till now and both Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble have struggled to get wickets.
Harbhajan Singh's seven-wicket haul against Essex has sought to change the pattern and coach John Wright has advised the off spinner to stick to the classical style of bowling. Wright has asked him to bowl "the Vaughan way", from wide of the stumps, aiming at the off-stump or outside rather than darting it in at middle or leg-stump. Wright has also given a few tips to Nehra to sort out his bowling action where his head and right shoulder seem to fall away at the point of delivery, making him lose control of the ball.
The Indians are actively thinking of going in with two spinners in this match which can be a big gamble considering that the best bowling figures by a spinner on this track in the last 10 years are three for 142 by Mushtaq Ahmed in 1996. Even the legendary Shane Warne has gone for 89 runs apiece for his three wickets at this ground. But with the medium-pacers unequal to the task, the thinking in the team management seems to be it is a risk worth taking. The return of Das, who was out of favour for the first two Tests following his disastrous run in the West Indies, spells doom for Wasim Jaffer as Virender Sehwag has almost secured his place as an opener after his fine shows in the first two Tests. There is hope for Sanjay Bangar too who might get in his first look-in in the series.
England, on the other hand, is riding on a crest of success and has dominated the Indians in this series. England's success has been due mainly to its batsmen who have had a remarkable run. Only once has it been bowled out for less than 480 in five matches this summer all its top batsmen have hit at least one century each. But the bowlers have also put in a commendable effort despite the absence of some of the leading names due to injury. Thursday's match will see the return of Andrew Caddick who missed the first two matches along with Darren Gough. Caddick comes in place of Craig White who has joined the growing list of injury scalps in the English camp.
All-rounder Ronnie Irani has also been ruled out of the Test following a surgery on his right knee. Another all-rounder Andrew Flintoff is also struggling with a hernia problem but is likely to figure in this Test and then go in for operation. England is likely to recall left-arm spinner Ashley Giles who was left out of the second Test in which the hosts went in with an all-pace attack.