Zaheer departs to leave India's attack in tatters
India continued to give the impression yesterday that their plans for the tour of England were written on the back of a fag packet. As Zaheer Khan, their leading fast bowler, was finally withdrawn from the squad because of injury, he was replaced by another left-arm swing bowler, RP Singh.
The entire episode seemed to embody less a side which is still nominally the No 1 in the world but more a scratch invitation XI. Zaheer, who was always likely to be instrumental if India were to win this Test series, injured a hamstring after bowling 13.3 overs in England's first innings of the first Test at Lord's.
He has been recovering since and returned to action in the tourists' two-day match in Northampton on Saturday. He left the field after bowling three overs and it was yesterday announced that not only was he suffering from a recurring hamstring strain but will need surgery on a right ankle injury which will keep him out for 14 to 16 weeks.
If this seemed at odds with previous prognoses which suggested Zaheer would return for the third Test, beginning at Edgbaston on Wednesday, it was matched for confusion by the call-up of RP Singh. Although Singh played an important part in India's Test series victory in this country in 2007, his star has been on the wane since.
He last played a Test match in April 2008 and has not featured in the one-day side for almost two years. Nor has he especially burst back into the reckoning with his performances for Uttar Pradesh in the Ranji Tropjhy, last season taking 24 wickets at 31.20.
But he is still only 25 and India suddenly seem to think he has a future after all. England first came across him on their tour of India in 2006, when he opened the bowling for a Board President's XI in Baroda with Munaf Patel. Both looked the part then, with Patel swinging the ball away and Singh dipping in late to the right-handers. Perhaps Duncan Fletcher, then the coach of England and now of India, remembered. It is Patel, part of the squad throughout the tour, who is likely to play in this week's Test.
Zaheer is the third member of the party to have his tour ended in the space of a week, joining the batsman Yuvraj Singh and the spinner Harbhajan Singh. Although India will be heartened by the return of Virender Sehwag following shoulder surgery, he will be desperately short of match practice.
If this will hardly bother a batsman of Sehwag's rare attacking prowess, he can do little or nothing to help them take the 20 wickets they are likely to need to win a Test. They look ill-equipped for the task.
England remain buoyant despite the absence for the match of Jonathan Trott, confirmed when their squad of 13 was announced on Saturday morning. In his place comes Ravi Bopara, with whom the selectors, to their credit, have kept faith.
Bopara might easily have been overtaken in the pecking order by James Taylor, who has done well during his appearances for England Lions, effectively the A team. But Bopara, whose last Test was the fourth match in the 2009 Ashes series, began the season well with Essex and was almost picked ahead of Eoin Morgan for the first Test against Sri Lanka.
Overlooked then, he had a lean time of it until a fortnight ago when he scored a doggedly skilful 178 on a testing surface at Southend. Nothing he does in Birmingham is likely to be enough for him to retain his place beyond Trott's injury-induced absence, but there is the opportunity to state his case definitively as the next man in line.
*For third Test starting on Wednesday at Edgbaston.
Age / Tests
A J Strauss (Middx, capt) 34 / 87
J M Anderson (Lancashire) 29 / 61
I R Bell (Warwickshire) 29 / 67
R S Bopara (Essex)26 / 10
T T Bresnan (Yorkshire) 26 / 8
S C J Broad (Nottinghamshire) 25 / 39
A N Cook (Essex)26 / 70
S T Finn (Middx) 22 / 12
E J G Morgan (Middx) 24 / 11
K P Pietersen (Surrey) 31 / 76
M J Prior (Sussex, wkt) 29 / 45
G P Swann (Nottinghamshire) 32 / 34
C T Tremlett (Surrey) 29 / 10
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