Bowlers' fitness may prove decisive to Hussain strategy

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The Independent Online

Declaring is not an exact science, as Nasser Hussain will know only too well after trying to decide on the right target to set India in the final innings of this second Test. There are so many imponderables to consider, which can only leave all but the most single-minded of captains distinctly uneasy.

Although Hussain is always ice cool, and very much his own man with a shrewd cricketing brain, he will not have enjoyed trying to decide when England should have started to try to bowl out India a second time.

The point of a declaration is to give the batting side their best chance of winning the match. So often, though, in the way of human nature, this becomes, first, a matter of making sure that the other side does not win. England are one down in the three-match series and surely everything should be geared towards victory and levelling the series, at least that is what one's instinct says.

Yet England's recent record in India has not been good and they have also lost five of their last six Test matches. The argument, then, goes that a healthy draw is a happy enough half-way house. There is nothing worse than losing a match after appearing to have made it safe. Test captains are not easily forgiven.

Of course, this aspect of it will have occurred to Hussain most of all, though he will have been worried by the possibility of Sachin Tendulkar batting for a considerable time as he did in the second half of his innings on Thursday. He knows, too, that Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Vangipurappu Laxman and Verinder Sehwag are all formidable stroke makers.

This may have been allowed to get in the way of the fact that, after four days' play, this pitch is now showing definite signs of wear. Although slow, it will be harder still for the batsmen on the last day. Then, history is firmly against a side making 300 or more to win in the fourth innings of a Test match, something which has never been done in India – in 1987 the West Indies made 276 to win, which is the nearest.

Hussain also had to consider the fitness of his bowlers. One, Ashley Giles, bowled 43.3 overs in the first innings in his first serious bowl for some months because of his Achilles tendon operation. Another, Craig White, batted for five and three-quarter hours in England's first innings.

There is also a dose of Delhi belly going around and who knows how many of Hussain's bowlers will be clutching their tummies when play starts on the fifth morning.

As a result of all these considerations, Hussain was right to sit on his hands and wait until England's last second-innings wicket had fallen – even if his bowlers do run out of time.