Angus Fraser: How on earth will this undercooked Indian attack take 20 wickets?
With Zaheer set to miss out again, tourists need rest of bowling cast to rise to challenge
Wednesday 27 July 2011
Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher, India's captain and coach, have much to contemplate and do before Friday's second Test at Trent Bridge. Somehow the pair need to produce a bowling attack capable of taking 20 England wickets. If India fail to meet this challenge they are likely to leave Nottingham 2-0 down in the four-match series. From there they are unlikely to recover.
The task has been made infinitely harder by the injury Zaheer Khan sustained last week at Lord's. To say India's attack revolves around Zaheer is a huge understatement. Without their leader, the bowling attack of the world's No 1 Test nation appeared relatively ordinary in St John's Wood.
Dhoni was looking for sympathy following the defeat to an excellent England side, stating his team were unfortunate to lose Zaheer and the absence of the left-armer had a major affect on the game. His comments were, to some extent, correct but little sympathy should be extended to Zaheer or India. The injury was an accident waiting to happen.
Modern schedules result in players constantly flitting between Test, one-day international and Twenty20 cricket. Within an itinerary, periods of rest must be found but in the 28-week period between Zaheer's last Test appearance – in Cape Town from 2-6 January – and Lord's he played in a solitary first-class game. And in that single match against Somerset, Zaheer bowled 20 lack-lustre overs and did not bowl in the hosts' second innings.
This, even for an experienced bowler approaching his 33rd birthday, is simply not enough preparatory bowling for a Test series against one of the best teams in the world. Test cricket is physically demanding, especially for fast bowlers, and to reduce the possibility of injury their bodies need to be toughened up prior to a series. Sadly, the only way of achieving this is by bowling competitive overs and to do this you have to play first-class cricket. Bowling four overs every now and then at the IPL may keep you ticking over but it is a world away from delivering 14 overs in half a day of Test cricket, which is what Zaheer was trying to achieve when he broke down.
It is hard to believe India will risk playing Zaheer in the second Test. If he were to break down again, England would have every right to deprive India of a replacement fielder for the remainder of the game. There is also only so much of Dhoni taking his gloves and pads off to bowl one can take before Test cricket begins to resemble the village game.
India would love the groundsmen at Trent Bridge, Edgbaston and The Oval to produce dry, grassless spinning pitches but this is unlikely to happen. On a pitch that takes turn, Harbhajan Singh would be a real threat, as would leg-spinner Amit Mishra. If anything though, the opposite will take place. The England management are encouraging groundsmen to leave plenty of grass on the pitches used for the remaining Tests.
So who will Dhoni and Fletcher select in Nottingham? Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar and Harbhajan will keep their places, while Zaheer's spot will be taken by either Munaf Patel or Sri Sreesanth. Kumar impressed everyone at Lord's with his skill. In many ways he is something of a throwback, bowling under 80 miles per hour and swinging the ball both ways. If the ball does not swing, however, he looks very hittable but you get the feeling he is better than that. Without the support of a big, threatening, seriously fast bowler he is unlikely to decide the series.
Sharma could – indeed should – be India's enforcer. But at Lord's we witnessed where Sharma's career is at. In England's first innings, in helpful conditions, he was ineffective, taking 0 for 128. In the second innings, he bowled a magnificent spell from the Nursery End, dismissing Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott in the space of 16 balls. His control of line and length was immaculate and he looked like taking a wicket with every ball. Sharma's height, pace and bounce should make him one of the most fearsome bowlers in the world but his record – 116 wickets at an average of 33 in 35 Tests – is modest. If India are to regain parity at Trent Bridge, the 22-year-old has a large role to play.
Munaf and Sreesanth are similar characters to Sharma, in that both have huge potential but fail to offer the consistency their side requires. Munaf is a seamer in the Glenn McGrath mould. He has a nice high action, bowls from close to the stumps and could be a handful if the pitch at Nottingham has a green tinge to it. He does, however, seem rather moody, on some occasions appearing uninterested in what is taking place. It is a shame because he can bowl.
Sreesanth is a complex character. At his best he is a very skilful swing bowler but on too many occasions he seems to get in the way of himself, worrying about, and getting involved in, things that are not relevant to his bowling. He can be rather temperamental as Pietersen found out on India's last tour of England. It was at Trent Bridge that Sreesanth lost his cool and bowled what appeared to be a deliberate beamer at Pietersen.
Harbhajan is rather temperamental too. With more than 400 Test wickets to his name he is one of India's greatest spinners. But he, like several of his team-mates, needs to get emotionally and physically into this series in the next few days. If they don't, their position as the world's No 1 Test side will have slipped from their hands.
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