Plunkett facing cut to make way for twin spinners

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The Independent Online

England are set to play two spinners in the third and final Test against India, which starts here on Saturday. It is a match England must win if they are to avoid falling to a second series defeat in Asia this winter.

England were well beaten on their pre-Christmas tour of Pakistan and, after the nine-wicket defeat in Mohali on Monday, they face the prospect of losing two consecutive series within six months of the Ashes win.

The England coach, Duncan Fletcher, said: "We will have to have a look at the pitch in Mumbai before we decide who plays there but there is a good chance that we will go into the game with two spinners."

Fletcher's comments indicate that Liam Plunkett, the Durham fast bowler, will be dropped for either Sean Udal or Ian Blackwell. Plunkett had a disappointing second Test, scoring one run and conceding more than five runs an over. Fletcher still views Plunkett as a player who is capable of batting at No 8 for England.

The challengers for his place have hardly been in great form. Udal, the favourite to replace Plunkett, has not bowled a competitive ball for more than three weeks; Blackwell scored one run and did not take a wicket in the first Test in Nagpur. If Udal is selected he will win his fourth Test cap after making three appearances against Pakistan in November. Udal batted stoically during the series but figures of 3 for 77 highlight his shortcomings.

The pitch at Bombay's Wankhede Stadium will offer the spinners plenty of assistance yet it is difficult to see the Indian batsmen fretting over anyone the tourists choose to play. The aggression of Stephen Harmison and Andrew Flintoff, and the swing of Matthew Hoggard, has troubled India but England's fourth and fifth bowlers have caused few problems.

Despite taking only one wicket in the second Test Monty Panesar is sure to play. He has shown enormous promise on the tour.

"It has been difficult for Monty,"Fletcher said. "On the pitches we have played on, finger spinners have found it hard to turn the ball. Even Harbhajan Singh has struggled a bit - it has been the wrist spinner [Anil Kumble] who has done the job. Monty has a good action and hopefully he will get a better chance in Mumbai."

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