Doubts growing over Giles' fitness for India

Ashley Giles' inability to make a quick recovery from the hip complaint that led to him having surgery in December has doubled the chances of Ian Blackwell, Monty Panesar or Alex Loudon being selected on England's forthcoming tour of India. The selectors placed the three uncapped spinners on standby while they monitored Giles' rehabilitation after the arthroscopic operation on his troublesome right hip.

It was initially hoped that an early return from England's pre-Christmas tour of Pakistan would give Giles time to recover for February's tour. But Michael Vaughan's premier spinner is failing to make satisfactory progress and is unlikely to be fit for the first Test in Nagpur on 1 March.

"If he cannot tour it would be a big loss to us," said David Graveney, England's chairman of selectors. "If you had to pick one person to epitomise the spirit of the team it would be Ashley. His role should not be underestimated."

The lack of a quality replacement will encourage the selectors to take Giles with them to Mumbai on 12 February, in the hope he will be fit for the second and third Tests, but the uncertainty should lead to the selectors now picking two from Blackwell, Panesar and Loudon.

The sight of India's wonderful batting line-up posting huge totals in the current series against Pakistan, whose bowling attack were too strong for England, has highlighted the size of the task facing the tourists. Vaughan will be hoping Stephen Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones can cause Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid and V V S Laxman as many problems as they did Australia last summer.

In the heat of India, and on dry turning pitches, England will look to play a spinner, but they will want one who is capable of scoring runs at No 8.

Giles has performed well with the bat lately and Blackwell, the best batsman amongst England's replacements, would seem the obvious replacement. Blackwell's apparent ambivalence towards cricket has made him frustrating to watch. He has ability, as 16 first-class hundreds and a batting average of almost 40 show. In his 28 one-day internationals he has shown skill with the ball, but a first-class bowling average of 43 exposes his limitations.

Panesar, who can turn the ball away from the right-hander, is the most skilful of England's back-up slow bowlers and he should also be taken to India. The left-armer has benefited from playing at Northampton, a ground where pitches continue to be produced to suit his style of bowling, but he has become used to performing under pressure and this is an encouraging sign.

A first-class batting average of 7.8 emphasises Panesar's shortcomings with the willow but he would be a viable option should England look to replace one of their fast bowlers with a spinner.

* Younis Khan (194) fell short of a double century for the second time in the series as Pakistan and India drew the highest-scoring match in Test history yesterday. The final match tally of 1,702 runs beat the previous record of 1,585 set by New Zealand and Pakistan in Karachi in 1976.

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