Zaheer-less India look to bounce back at Trent Bridge
Nottingham: India were left grappling with injury worries ahead of the crucial second cricket Test against England with pace spearhead Zaheer Khan being ruled out and opener Gautam Gambhir being rendered a doubtful starter.
Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said Zaheer will have to sit out of the game though he has shown huge improvement in his right hamstring strain and was expected to be fit for the third Test.
"As of now Gambhir is doubtful. We will give him some more time. It depends on amount of pain he can go through and still perform," said Dhoni on the eve of the second Test starting on Friday.
Meanwhile, stunned by the humiliating defeat at the Lord`s, India will have to quickly get their act together as they go into the second cricket Test against England on Friday with a serious threat to their status as the number one team.
The demoralised Indians, who lost the first Test by a resounding 196 runs, will have to pull up their socks if they hope to prevent the hosts from dislodging them from the top position.
But the injury to pace spearhead Zaheer Khan and the poor form of Harbhajan Singh have handicapped the bowling to a great extent while the form of some of their top order batsmen have compounded their misery.
In the absence of Zaheer, either S Sreesanth or Munaf Patel will make it to the team with the Indians preferring to go into the crucial game with three pacers and a spinner on a Trent Bridge track which was expected to help the quick bowlers.
While India would be desperate to do whatever it takes to hold on to their numero uno Test status, a series win by a two game margin will see England topple Mahendra Singh Dhoni`s men from the pinnacle.
The visitors, however, can take heart from the fact that they lost the first Test in five of their seven tours (excluding Bangladesh) in last four years, and yet recovered to avoid a series loss with the exception of once in Sri Lanka in 2008.
India came back from behind in Sri Lanka last year, and then against Australia at home and against South Africa, both at home and away. In Durban late last year, India bounced back in style after suffering a heavy defeat against the Proteas at Centurion.
And though the past can be a source of inspiration yet it should not be considered a guiding light against a ruthless opposition, who have won 12 of their last 17 Tests while losing just two games.
The Indian batting, except for a century by Rahul Dravid (103 not out) in the first innings and resistance put up by VVS Laxman (56) and Suresh Raina (78) in the second innings to save the match, was far from impressive during the opening Test that England won comfortably.
Even Sachin Tendulkar, chasing his 100th international century, could make little contribution.
In the absence of Zaheer, who sustained a hamstring strain during the Lord`s Test and was unable to bowl after the first day, Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar had to carry a huge workload on their shoulder.
Moreover the fact that England could subdue them so overwhelmingly at Lord`s without any major contributions from openers Andrew Strauss and Alistair Cook, as well as Eoin Morgan, would also play on their minds.
Going into the second Test, Zaheer`s injury has left the door open for either S Sreesanth or Munaf Patel to come into the side. While Sreesanth has the ability to swing at good pace, Munaf is a steady bowler and can hold one end up.
Many experts are inclined to put it beyond Zaheer-less Indian bowling attack to claim 20 England wickets even though conditions at Trent Bridge are hugely inclined in favour of swing bowlers.
For one, this England batting line-up is virtually without a tail and, two, there is only as much as the fast bowling duo of Ishant and Praveen can do.
Meanwhile, Harbhajan`s form is also a cause of worry. At Lord`s the spinner ended up giving 218 runs for just a wicket. But the Indian management would have a tough task at hands when they sit down to decide who to play in tomorrow`s game, as the only other spinner in the squad, Amit Mishra, also did not have a great warm-up game.
The failure of the batting line up, which includes the likes of Gambhir, Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman, is also not going to help the team`s morale.
Moreover, with Tendulkar recovering from flu and Gambhir suffering from bruised elbow, India can only hope that the two key batsmen get back to full fitness tomorrow.
If fit, the team would be banking heavily on Tendulkar to bail it out of trouble, along with Dravid and Laxman. India`s fate would largely depend on the trio`s performance against a potent English attack.
Since December 6, 2009 when India became number one Test team, Tendulkar scored 1722 runs from 15 Tests before the Lord`s Test. But against a fiery English pace attack what India need is a strong start from the openers – inexperienced Abhinav Mukund and Gambhir.
It is important that India win the toss and put up at least 450 on the board.
The pressure on England`s batting could only be exerted with a huge first innings total. But a score of 450 plus is easier said than done for India`s lower half, at least in the first Test, seemed to have completely lacked depth.
Dhoni and Harbhajan, at number seven and eight, have been huge insurance for India with the bat in the past but the English attack seemed to have their complete measure in the first Test.
India need at least two top order batsmen to be ready for the second new ball. In the absence of Virender Sehwag, India realistically can`t have a massive stand for the first wicket.
It then exposes the middle order, who, even if they do well, could find their good work being wasted by the lower order with the second new ball.
Dhoni, thus, will be critical to India`s batting plans but he could only be of value if he goes after the bowling.
On the other hand, England could fall victims to complacency but it seems unlikely after they had things under total control at Lord`s, with Kevin Pietersen scoring a double century, Matt Prior hitting a reviving second innings century and Stuart Broad returning to his form.
Another win here would give them a 2-0 lead and a stronger grip at becoming the world`s best Test side.
England need to win 2-0 or 3-1 in the four-match Test series to displace India as number one Test team of the world.
The pitch at Trent Bridge is not expressly quick but it provides help to seam and swing and England presently has a line-up as good as anyone in the world.
James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Tremlett proved a potent fast-bowling mix against India at Lord`s and they would look to carry on the momentum.
Anderson has an uncanny wicket-taking knack here, where he finished with figures of 11 for 71 against Pakistan in last summer`s Test victory.
The India team, in this battle to stay alive in the series and retain its hold at the top of the Test ranking, has almost forgotten that Tendulkar is just a knock away from scoring his 100th international hundred.
But it could turn out to be a blessing in disguise as the legendary batsman may just utilise this opportunity of limelight away from him, to concentrate and come up with not just his 100th international ton but a match-winning innings for his team.
England: Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior (wk), Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Chris Tremlett, Tim Bresnan.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), Gautam Gambhir, Abhinav Mukund, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Suresh Raina, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Amit Mishra, Munaf Patel, Wriddhiman Saha, S Sreesanth.
Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle
On-field umpires: Asad Rauf and Marais Erasmus
Third umpire: Billy Bowden, Fourth umpire: Tim Robinson
Match starts at 3:30 IST.