Trent Bridge, July 28: Under M S Dhoni's usually sure-handed captaincy, India made a meal of the first battle against England in the four-Test war this summer. Hardly surprising considering pace spearhead Zaheer Khan pulled out of the ranks due to a gammy hamstring early on, consequently denying the visitors his fire-power that they have grown so accustomed to on tour. After all, a Test career haul of 273 wickets from 79 matches at an average of 31.78 speaks reams about his ability.
Now, as India stumble into the next Test, which is all set to unfold at Nottinghamshire, M S Dhoni is faced with niggling quandary of whom he should turn to by way of attempting to fill the enormous boots of Zaheer. Will it be the firebrand Sreesanth or the quietly deceptive Munaf Patel? As of the eve of the crucial encounter, Dhoni is holding his cards close to his chest.
Sreesanth's Test career got off to a rip-rollicking start, as he snared a chart-topping 18 wickets at an average of just over 21 during India's tour of South Africa in 2006-07. He showed an inordinate amount of promise for a rookie pacemen, manifested in his penchant for keeping a straight seam . But since then as indolence and indiscipline set in, his star has been constantly fading. In the 2010-2011 tour of South Africa, he was just a shadow of his previously incisive self, picking up 9 wickets from 3 Tests at over 41.00.
Munaf Patel on the other hand, has had an inauspicious rites of passage to Test cricket. He has garnered all of 35 wickets from 13 Tests at an unflattering average of 38.54. But unlike Sreesanth, he bowls a more disciplined line and within his limits. Former India coach Gary Kirsten hailed him as the unsung hero of the World Cup earlier this year. Yet, when he was given a shot at Test glory in last month's tour of the West Indies, he failed to make much of an impression, taking just on wicket for 119 runs!
So, it seems Dhoni doesn't have much to go by except his gut instinct. Will he be able to stomach the dilemma of choosing the more appropriate replacement for Zaheer? A nation holds its breath...