India's chance to consolidate
Hosts will be wary of England’s fightback when the second Test begins today
Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his English counterpart Alastair Cook on Thursday followed the now-normal pattern of revealing only partial details about team combination and their state of mind in the pre-match press-do ahead of the second Test, beginning at the Wankhede stadium here on Friday.
But their faces often betrayed their intentions. Dhoni was all smiles while answering questions, while Cook seemed to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. A nine wicket win or defeat -- depending on which side of the fence you are -- can do that even to usually level-headed individuals like Dhoni and Cook.
From an Indian perspective, the last year’s tour of England still carries deep and severe burns. It’s something so evident beneath the happy faces of Indian cricketers, and comes out in public often through their demands for spin-friendly pitches. Though they didn’t get a rank-turner -- perhaps, the most talked about term in the last few weeks -- Indian spinners, with no little help from their pace colleagues, put England in their place with a solid show.
R Aswhin and Pragyan Ojha were effective without precisely being brilliant on a slow, low pitch at Motera. Ojha was impressive in particular. The Hyderabad left-arm spinner doesn’t have the variety of Ashwin but he has truck-loads of patience and concentration, and the ability to maintain a frustrating line. Kevin Pietersen, who was castled twice in the first Test by Ojha, will vouch for that.
In contrast, Ashwin had a rather inconsistent outing. The Tamil Nadu off-spinner troubled England to no end with his variations in the first innings but looked a bit out of steam in the second essay, struggling to put to use his variations. The Mumbai pitch may not be the rank-turner as the Indians wish, and the spin duo will have to show their perseverant side here as well. Dhoni hinted at the possible nature of the pitch at the Wankhede, and that may put more responsibility on Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, the most likely candidate to replace the injured Umesh Yadav.
At Ahmedabad, Zaheer and Umesh were largely at the top of their trade, and their crucial blows, especially in the second innings, was a major reason behind India touching the tape with ease with well over a session remaining. Now, Zaheer will not have the backing of Umesh, and it’s a perfect time for Ishant to prove his worth.
Once touted as the next big thing of Indian cricket, the Delhi pacer has struggled to live up to his billing. After 40-odd Tests, he is no longer the next big thing or the successor of Zaheer, but a 23-year old fast bowler, struggling to find his feet in international cricket.
Now, it’s a perfect chance for Ishant to arrest the slide and do an act of carpe diem -- seize the moment. Perhaps, such a chance might not come his way anytime soon with India playing another six Tests at home where the use of a third seamer is as realistic as finding a cascade in the middle of Sahara desert.
While, Ishant will look for a reversal in fortune, his Delhi mates Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag will be looking to cash in on a good start. The openers have shared a 100-plus stand at Motera after a gap nearly two years, and Sehwag announced his return to run-making ways with a blistering hundred.
Gambhir might not have got a big score, but the 45 he made at Ahmedabad might have given him enough confidence, and the left-hander will, hopefully, follow the path of his dear friend in converting the start into something more substantial.
England have been all sorts of troubles since they landed in India, and one more was added to the swelling list on the day when Stuart Broad missed the final practice session. An ECB statement described the all-rounder has been “little under the weather.” In that case left-arm spinner Monty Panesar should find a place in the eleven.
The challenge in front of them is very clear -- win the Test or forget this series. They are no strangers to such situations as in 2006 they rallied splendidly after getting thrashed around in Mohali. But it’s still an enormous task against this Indian side.
Umpires: Aleem Dar, Tony Hill; Third Umpire: Sudhir Asnani; Match referee: Roshan Mahanama.