Indians in spin over way to stop England
Wednesday 08 March 2006
England's problems prior to the first Test against India allowed Andrew Flintoff's side to walk out at Nagpur with a carefree, we-will-give-it-a-damn-good-go attitude. With expectation low and nothing to lose they produced an outstanding performance, dominating the game for all but the final 80 minutes, when India belatedly flexed their muscles.
The confidence gained from the draw in Nagpur will have been transported up to Chandigarh, India's cleanest and most prosperous city, but England will find it hard to replicate the approach they created during tomorrow's second Test. It is relatively easy to adopt a blithe attitude in a one-off match but now, with the outlook brighter and expectations higher, England's inexperienced team are under greater pressure.
Flintoff is aware of the challenges that face his side. "The one thing we cannot afford to do now is become complacent because we have competed well with India," said the England captain. "We probably outplayed them in the first Test but we cannot start feeling that we are better than we are. The way we played last week has left the lads feeling quite excited about playing against India again and if we can get the basics right we'll be fine."
England's display has flustered the Indians. High-quality seam bowling restricted the home team's naturally attacking batsmen whilst Alastair Cook, Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen made a mockery of the generalisation that English players cannot play spin. And, in an effort to give the hosts options, the Mohali groundsman has produced two pitches for the coming match.
One pitch is grassy and hard whilst the other, positioned adjacently, is rather scabby and cracked. The grassy pitch will contain greater pace and bounce than its neighbour, a factor that will encourage England's fast bowlers. But the surface will also make it easier for batsmen to play their shots, something India struggled to do against accurate seam bowling on a low, slow surface last week.
Mohali is a venue that has traditionally helped the faster bowlers. The location of the ground - in the foothills of the Himalayas - gives it a cooler climate than any of the destinations England will play at and this will be enjoyed by Matthew Hoggard, Stephen Harmison and Flintoff.
Teams that win the toss generally elect to bowl first here and on all but one occasion - Sri Lanka scored 369 in their first innings in 1997/98 - it has been the correct decision. The seamers have had greater success than spinners, with four of the seven five-wicket hauls being taken by them. Indeed, in the Test played here a year ago, Lakshmipathy Balaji, the Indian paceman, achieved match figures of 9-171, the best in the six-Test history of the ground. The pitch the game is played on will depend on the views of the Indian hierarchy. Rahul Dravid and Greg Chappell, India's captain and their coach, will have a major say and they will probably err on the side of caution, backing their spinners to take wickets on a dry, cracked pitch. If India do opt for the grassy surface, they would need to drop either Anil Kumble or Harbhajan Singh for an inexperienced seamer. It is a route they are unlikely to follow.
England will contemplate playing an extra fast bowler no matter what pitch the Test is played on. Monty Panesar must play and he will be cheered on by his parents. Panesar's family are from Ludhiana, an industrial city 50 miles from Chandigarh, and there will be a large contingent of them at the ground on Thursday morning.
Ian Blackwell failed to impress on his Test debut and he is set to be replaced by either Liam Plunkett or Shaun Udal. Udal, after stomach problems, is fit again but Plunkett seems the preferred option. Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, speaks glowingly about the Durham fast bowler every time his name is mentioned and during the one-dayers in Pakistan he highlighted his potential with the bat.
The England player under the most pressure will once again be Flintoff, and it will be interesting to see how he copes a second time around. Flintoff looked a bit ruffled when the Indian batsmen got after his bowlers on the final afternoon of the first Test and they will surely attempt to be more positive here.
Flintoff, however, will just try to get his players to reproduce the performance they put in at Nagpur. "We went out in the first Test with a definite plan," he said. "We spoke about how we were going to bowl and attack the Indians and we stuck to it. So a lot of the responsibility was taken out of my hands; the side almost captained itself.
"I just tried to be myself in the first Test. I tried to be one of the lads in the dressing-room. I still think I can be and I don't want to change the relationship I have with them. It would be unfair for me to do this for a short period of time. I have the respect of the players and they have my respect but I know I am only keeping [Michael Vaughan's] job warm until he comes back. He is our captain and the quicker he gets back the better it will be for us. Hopefully I won't be around long enough to develop a style of captaincy."
India's only other decision concerns the fit-again Yuvraj Singh. Yuvraj has recovered from a hamstring injury and is expected to come in for Mohammad Kaif. The decision would be tough on Kaif, who scored 91 in the first Test, but Yuvraj struck a century in his last Test innings and batted beautifully in the one-dayers against Pakistan.
Probable teams for second Test at Mohali, Chandigarh
India: R Dravid (c), V Sehwag, W Jaffer, S R Tendulkar, V V S Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, I K Pathan, A Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, S Sreesanth.
England: A Flintoff (c), A J Strauss, A N Cook, I R Bell, K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, G O Jones, L E Plunkett, M J Hoggard, S J Harmison, M S Panesar.
Where the Test will be won and lost
TIE THE BATSMEN DOWN
England's bowlers need to maintain the control they had over India's batsmen for all but 14 overs in Nagpur. During this brief period the batsmen highlighted just how dangerous they can be. When they are in full flow the crowd becomes noisy and the batsmen gain confidence in turn. These grounds can be very intimidating when this happens.
BLUNT THE SPINNERS
Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh took a combined 4 for 380 in Nagpur. It was a brilliant effort from England's batsmen on a pitch that took spin. It was achieved by playing straight and having patience. The challenge, like that of the bowlers, is to do it again. It will not be easy but the best players in Tests are the most consistent ones.
Two have been prepared but it is hard to believe India will choose to play on a pitch that could encourage England's fast bowlers. They will probably opt for the dry, cracked wicket which will produce similar cricket to that in Nagpur. But England now know they can cause problems on these surfaces as well as those which offer pace and bounce.
Chandigarh, at the foot of the Himalayas, will be much cooler than Nagpur with temperatures in the low twenties. Scattered showers are forecast for tomorrow, Friday and Saturday. With the extra moisture in the air there could be more chance of the ball swinging, but spin is still sure to play its part.
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