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England look to salvage pride against India

Published: Friday, March 17, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
 
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Mumbai:While England grapples to put together a playing XI which can salvage their pride and retain their second spot in the ICC rankings after Steve Harmison was ruled with a shin injury, India are faced with an embarrassment of riches ahead of the third and final Test in Mumbai tomorrow.

England are now missing the services of five main players with the onus lying on stand-in captain Andrew Flintoff to pull his side together and compete against India.

The injury-depleted tourists who crashed to a nine-wicket loss in the second test in Mohali on Monday after forcing a gritty draw in the first game in Nagpur, need a win in the last Test here to atleast square the series.

The England team with all their injury problems have competed well in this series so far, but their batsmen need to go on and get a big score if they want to have a realistic chance of beating the Indians in their own den for the first time in 21 years.

Paul Collingwood got a hundred in Nagpur and they were able to pull off a draw but at Mohali two of their batsmen got into the 60s and then got out which put their side on the back foot.

Batsmen like Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell need to stay at the wicket and not get out when set. The key to their success would be how their top order handles pressure and not give in and getting good starts.

In Mohali leg-spinner Anil Kumble triggered a batting collapse to claim nine wickets and set up the victory along with debutant paceman Munaf Patel, who grabbed seven.

England also have another reason of ensuring that they square the series, as India, if they protect or build on their lead, England will lose second place in the ICC Test rankings and slip to third behind Australia and India.

With Harmison out of the equation England is contemplating playing two spinners and might just also strengthen their batting which has let them down so far.

However, the only option they have is bringing in Owais Shah, who has not played a single match on this tour so far.

The key to England's success will depend largely on how their faltering top-order handles pressure.

The skipper's main task will be to inspire his inexperienced batsmen to avoid a repeat of the second innings collapse in Mohali, where England lost five wickets after tea on day four to lose the Test.

Veteran off-spinner Shaun Udal could be handed a fourth Test cap, replacing paceman Liam Plunkett, and pair up with left-arm spinner Monty Panesar.

England might also be tempted to play swing bowler James Anderson as the Mumbai wicket traditionally has some bounce and the wind from the sea also makes the ball move a bit more which could suit Anderson's style of bowling.

For India, this Test will see two of their biggest stars reach personal landmarks, with their captain Rahul Dravid playing his 100th Test match, while Sachin Tendulkar will surpass Kapil Dev's record for most test appearances by an Indian, 131, at his home ground. Dravid will be the sixth Indian after Kapil, Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Tendulkar and Kumble to play 100 tests.

However, being his home ground and not being in the best of forms the focus will be on Tendulkar, who has not gone past 28 in nine innings since scoring his world record 35th test hundred against Sri Lanka in December. His local fans would be looking for a big one in this record breaking Test for him.

India meanwhile also look set to recall VVS Laxman or Mohammad Kaif into the middle order by dropping leg-spinner Piyush Chawla, who made his debut in Mohali as the fifth bowler.

Chawla though an exciting prospect did not get to do much with the four other bowlers bowling the bulk of the overs and the Indian middle order also showing signs of fragility, India might go in with their old formula of four bowlers and seven batsmen with Dhoni being the seventh batsmen.

The wicket according to the curator Sudhir Naik is a sporting one which would offer help to both batsmen and bowlers equally.

Both the teams have not yet named the final 11 and would do so only on the morning of the match.

Teams:

India (From): Rahul Darvid (c), Virender Shewag, Wasim Jaffer, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, VVS Laxman, Mohd. Kaif, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, RP Singh, Sreesanth, Piyush Chawla.

England (From): Andrew Flintoff (c), Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Owais Shah, Geraint Jones, Matthew Hoggard, Paul Collingwood, James Anderson, Shaun Udal, Ian Blackwell, Monty Panesar.

Umpires: Simon Taufell, Darrell Hair (both Australia) Third Umpire: K Hariharan (India) Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka)

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