India do little to dispel feeling of growing crisis
India 352-9 Northamptonshire 355-7 Match drawn (Northamptonshire won on first innings)
Sunday 07 August 2011
The England players will be urged to see images of wounded animals in their minds as captain and coach try to ensure guards are not dropped at Edgbaston on Wednesday. But if Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower had been here yesterday they would have seen an India team showing few signs of impending recovery.
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There were signs of chaos in the Indian camp as Rahul Dravid reacted to his surprise recall to the one-day squad by announcing his retirement from limited-overs cricket, and what appeared to be a setback in fast bowler Zaheer Khan's preparations for a comeback in the Third Test was explained as part of a planned rehabilitation programme.
After Zaheer, who broke down on day one of the First Test with a damaged hamstring, was named in the India team for this two-day friendly it was supposed he would be subjected to a fairly rigorous fitness test to ensure he could cope with leading the attack in a five-day match.
Instead, after three overs he left the field and did not return. While he had been on the field, in no obvious trouble, he was swept for six by Mal Loye and struck for three fours by the Ireland international Niall O'Brien, both of whom went on to make centuries in a two-day friendly in which a Northants without many regulars were declared "winners on first innings" after passing the tourists' total of 352 in the last scheduled over.
Afterwards, an Indian spokesman said it was always intended that 32-year-old Khan would bowl only a short spell as part of his recovery but declined to say whether or not he had felt any discomfort. "His condition will be assessed by the physiotherapists tomorrow," he said.
His fitness for Edgbaston, then, remains in doubt and with Virender Sehwag's preparations limited to one 30-minute innings there was not much else to encourage anything other than manufactured optimism among the thousands of fans here looking for signs that India might reverse a 2-0 series deficit and prevent England taking their place at the top of the world rankings.
An attack made up principally of pace bowlers Sree Sreesanth and Munaf Patel, and spinners Amit Mishra and Suresh Raina, could do nothing to stop Loye and O'Brien completing unfinished business.
Loye, 38, who made 83 in his last match against the Indian tourists in Luton 15 years ago, reached his century off 145 balls, with 13 fours and two sixes, the second a colossal one off Mishra, before holing out to deep cover where the India captain MS Dhoni – not keeping wicket in this match – took the catch.
O'Brien, who had a half-century for Ireland in Belfast and a fine 46 in the World Cup in Bangalore this year by which to remember his previous encounters with the Indians, completed his hundred in 167 balls with consecutive fours off Mishra, whom he then tried to reverse-sweep, giving Dhoni his second catch in the deep.
Mishra, out for 61 earlier in the day, bowled fewer loose deliveries than he did against Somerset two weeks ago, yet did not made a convincing case to win his 12th Test cap as the injured Harbhajan Singh's replacement ahead of Pragyan Ojha, the left-arm spinner added to the squad as cover.
The announcement that Dravid had been selected for their one-day squad after a two-year absence will be judged by India's critics at home as indicative of the crisis. Dravid himself seemed unimpressed and announced immediately that it would be his last series. "In the long-term it is best for me to focus on Test cricket," he said.
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