Cricket: Attacking England risk failure

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Trent Bridge was awash with puddles yesterday, causing the England and Indian teams to cancel net practice in favour of shopping and work-outs in the hotel gym. With the pitch under covers, England's only move was to pack Ian Salisbury off to Arundel, where Sussex are playing Hampshire.

Apparently the state of the pitch does not warrant playing a second spinner in today's third Test. This means that Min Patel definitely plays and the only outstanding decision left for the selectors this morning will be to decide between Mark Ealham and Ronnie Irani.

"We looked at the pitch and decided we didn't need two spinners," said the England captain, Mike Atherton, who had consoled Salisbury before sending him on his way. "I had a chat with Ian. He knows he's our leg- spinner and that's important. Not many finger spinners win Test matches these days, and in the mid to long term we're going to be looking at him to be part of the scenery, and I hope he's gone away happier knowing that.

"All it's down to now is whether we go for a stronger fifth bowler or a stronger batter. But whatever 11 we choose, we will be looking to win the match. In my experience it's always dangerous to sit back and play for the draw."

Rain and cricket mix worse than oil and water, and yesterday's damp and abandoned Trent Bridge looked the last place an important Test match was about to be played. As ever, it is a disguise well worn, and a victory here is crucial to both teams: salvaging pride for India while reinforcing claims that England are at last becoming a consistent Test force.

However, as the latter is usually associated with continuity of selection, England are again flaunting convention by changing their side. Having been missed at Lord's, Patel is certain to play, and although Irani's batting played an important role in helping to save the game there, the balance of the side at Trent Bridge appears to have tilted towards the ball. As such, Ealham's superiority as a fourth seamer is likely to be favoured.

But, whichever team the selectors finally decide on, it will be the 26th Test in a row not to have fielded the same 11 as the previous Test. So far this summer most of us have applauded the selection panel, particularly some of its more imaginative choices. Yet, if we go back to the first Test, there is a clear lack of logic in playing Ealham.

At Edgbaston, the line given was that if a spinner played, then Irani (an all-rounder) would play and not the extra batsman (at that stage John Crawley). In fact, Patel played and Irani hit a memorable cameo to give the England innings some much-needed momentum. However, for the second Test at Lord's, the spinner was left out. But, instead of playing the extra batsman, Irani again batted at No 6 and was used sparingly as the fifth seamer.

Now, with Patel reselected, the original situation has returned once more, though this time it is Irani who is likely to sit things out. With England one up and India likely to play a second leg-spinner in Narendra Hirwani, it still seems curious that England, despite their laudable claims of going for a win, should risk leaving themselves wide open by batting Russell - despite his century - at No 6, particularly on a pitch, should the weather hold, that will probably begin to turn by the fourth day.

The inclusion of Hirwani for the wayward Paras Mhambrey is not the only change India are likely to make in trying to level the series, and the enhanced performance in the last Test has clearly given Mohammed Azharuddin and his men a new boldness of heart. Thanks to Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid adding new steel to what had been up until Lord's a one-man batting order, India can at last afford to attack. This inevitably means dropping a batsman in favour of playing another bowler and, in all likelihood, the strapping seamer Salil Ankola will join forces with Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad, at the expense of Ajay Jadeja.

At Lord's, England were perhaps fortunate to escape with a draw but, if the plaudits for that went to the batsmen, England were rightly fined for keeping a slovenly over-rate during India's marathon first innings.

As Atherton pointed out yesterday, once the taxman has had his 40 per cent slice of the match fee and the ICC theirs, there is not a lot left for the player. Whatever England claim, a draw will suit them here. Thankfully, last week's fine should ensure it is achieved without resorting to slow over-rates.

ENGLAND (v India, Third Test, Trent Bridge, starting today) (from): M A Atherton (capt), A J Stewart, N Hussain, G P Thorpe, G A Hick, R C Irani, M A Ealham, R C Russell (wkt), C C Lewis, D G Cork, M M Patel, A D Mullally.

INDIA (from): V S Rathore, N R Mongia (wkt), S C Ganguly, S R Tendulkar, M Azharuddin (capt), R S Dravid, A Kumble, J Srinath, S A Ankola, B K V Prasad, N D Hirwani, S L V Raju, S V Manjrekar.

Umpires: G Sharp (Eng), K T Francis (Sri Lanka). TV replay umpire: D J Constant.