England's injury-ravaged side suffered another crushing blow yesterday when a shin injury forced Stephen Harmison to withdraw from tomorrow's third and final Test against India here.
Harmison sustained the injury during the second Test in Mohali, where he bowled only four overs in India's second innings.
The England medical team had hoped the complaint would settle down with two days' rest, but Harmison was unable to take part in yesterday's practice session at the Wankhede Stadium.
A scan highlighted a stress-related bone injury to his right shin. England will seek further medical advice from home before deciding whether he should remain for the seven one-day internationals, but there is a strong possibility that he has bowled his last ball of the tour.
It is in England's long-term interest to treat Harmison, the team's most dangerous bowler, carefully. One-day cricket brings in the crowds, but it is Test cricket that counts, and it would be unwise for England to risk ruin-ing his chances of playing against Sri Lanka on 11 May for the sake of half a dozen limited-over matches at the end of a tough winter.
Harmison's withdrawal leaves Andrew Flintoff captaining a team containing only six members of the Ashes-winning side. Knee, knee and hip injuries have incapacitated Michael Vaughan, Simon Jones and Ashley Giles, while Marcus Trescothick is still attempting to deal with the personal problems that caused him to return home.
The loss of Harmison, who has played in 28 consecutive Tests, will have a huge impact on England's chances of levelling the series. He may have only taken five wickets in the opening two Tests, but he is the England bowler the Indian batsmen would least like to face.
Harmison bowled with venom in India's first innings in Mohali, where he dismissed Virender Sehwag and Mahendra Singh Dhoni with brutish deliveries that reared off a good length and flew at the throats of the batsmen. Flintoff is the only other England bowler capable of bowling similar deliveries on docile pitches.
England were always going to change the make-up of their attack on a ground with a history of helping spin bowlers, and the departure of Harmison will ensure that a second spinner now plays. Shaun Udal is yet to feature in the Test series, but he is expected to play alongside Monty Panesar.
Whether Udal and Panesar have the wherewithal to trouble India's powerful batting is another matter. Indian batsmen are regarded as the best players of spin in the world and this Test will offer the pair the biggest challenge of their careers.
The groundsman at the Wankhede Stadium has suggested the pitch will play true and possess bounce, comments that will give hope to England's seamers, and Flintoff will take encouragement from the fact that seven of the last eight Test matches here have produced results. But, sadly for England, the majority of these games have been dominated by slow bowlers and this is not England's strength. In the last two Tests here spinners have snared 48 of the 69 wickets taken by bowlers.
Udal was expected to replace Liam Plunkett prior to Harmison's injury, but the Durham fast bowler may now be given a reprieve. Plunkett will face competition from James Anderson who, while inconsistent, does have the knack of taking wickets. Playing Anderson would be a gamble, but England need to take 20 wickets to have any chance of levelling the series.
The quality of England's performance over the coming week could go one of two ways. In Nagpur, a depleted side showed they had the ability to be competitive and, with the pressure once again off and expectation low, England could surprise everyone. Yet they could also go the other way, as happened in Lahore before Christmas when they were defeated by an innings and 100 runs in the final Test against Pakistan.
England's bowlers have managed to keep Sachin Tendulkar under control in the first two Test matches, and observers are beginning to wonder whether his powers are in decline. In his last nine Test innings the "Little Master" has failed to pass 30, but the prospect of playing in front of his home crowd is sure to motivate him. Rahul Dravid has become the scourge of England's bowlers. Dravid, who will play in his 100th Test, has been in superb form throughout the series, occupying the crease for almost 15 hours. "He's not nicknamed 'The Wall' for nothing," Flintoff said. "His bat does take some getting past. It would be nice to nick him out for a low score."
India's only selection dilemma is whether to retain the five bowlers who took the side to a nine-wicket win in the second Test, or return to four. Again, the pitch will dictate the decision, but it would be a surprise not to see an extra batsman, in VVS Laxman, return. India, after all, do not need to win.
England (probable): A Flintoff (c), A J Strauss, A N Cook, I R Bell, K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, G O Jones (wkt), J M Anderson, S Udal, M J Hoggard, M S Panesar.
India (probable): R Dravid (capt), W Jaffer, V Sehwag, S Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wkt), I Pathan, A Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Munaf Patel.
Five missing Ashes heroes
Michael Vaughan (knee)
Marcus Trescothick (personal reasons)
Simon Jones (knee)
Ashley Giles (hip)
Steve Harmison (shin)
Where Test will be won and lost
For England the first day of the Test is pivotal. If Flintoff can win his third toss of the series and England bat well the omens should be good. But should Flintoff call incorrectly, and India compile a sizeable score on the first day, one fears the worst. If England are to win in Bombay they must dismiss Rahul Dravid cheaply. It will not be easy, especially without Stephen Harmison. Dravid has scored 248 runs at an average of 82.7 in the series. Andrew Flintoff will not care whether it is a good ball, an uncharacteristic loose shot or a bit of luck that dismisses him as long as he goes.
The terracotta-coloured surface was damp yesterday but a baking hot sun will remove any moisture from it before Saturday and it will lose pace and bounce. The Wankhede Stadium historically helps the spinners, but England should not underestimate Munaf Patel's ability to reverse-swing the old ball.
While Chandigarh offered typically English weather, with heavy rainfall disrupting the first two days, in Bombay it will be back to the subcontinent as we know it: hot. The sun will shine, pushing temperatures up to 33C every day. It will be hard work for the pacemen so the spinners will have to do their share.Reuse content