India aim revival, England eye No.1 spot

From Ashish Shukla

 Birmingham: Their reputation in tatters after two humiliating defeats, injury-ravaged India face an arduous task to retain their number one status when they go into the third cricket Test against England here on Wednesday with serious concerns over the form of their famed batsmen.

Down 0-2 in the four-match series, India would be stripped of their number one ranking in the ICC charts if England beat them in this match. Even otherwise, England just have to draw both or win one of the matches to clinch the top spot.

Given England’s resounding wins thus far, India’s revival looks difficult after a spate of injuries — the latest being the ankle and hamstring problem of pace spearhead Zaheer Khan which has ruled him out of the entire series.

With limited bowling resources at his disposal, Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni will look up to his fit-again openers to quell the charge of England’s bowlers and reduce the 2-0 deficit.

The Indian team management will have to give a good thought to the composition of the team considering the conditions at Edgbaston.

With Harbhajan Singh ruled out, leg spinner Amit Mishra may get the nod while Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar and Munaf Patel may have to shoulder the pace bowling responsibilities.

Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, India’s most successful opening pair ever with 3551 runs at 59.18 per innings, once again come together to lead India’s resistance against a rampant England attack on a green Edgbaston pitch over the next five days.

Recent history shows no visiting team ever does well in England without a successful opening pair and so the onus is squarely on the two Delhiites to stem the rot and keep India’s status, however tenuous, intact as world’s best Test side.

When India beat England 1-0 in the 2007 series, openers Dinesh Karthik and Wasim Jaffer were pivotal with 322 runs together at 53.67 per innings.

In 2008 when England were last beaten at home, it was the South African opening pair of Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie who were the bedrock of Proteas’ success.

England need a 2-0 or 3-1 margin to displace India at the top and the hosts realise the best way to do it is to keep India’s batting under the weather.

The six Tests India have played this year, all abroad, only serve to illustrate the point. Only once Sehwag and Gambhir have played together this year and India could cross 300 runs in an innings at Capetown.

In the remaining five Tests, without the duo being around, India have only once managed a 300-plus score.

Such is the reliance on them that inconvenient questions stand no chance to keep them apart — the fact that both are returning from injuries or that it was young Abhinav Mukund who smashed a century against Northamptonshire while the famous Delhi duo failed last week.

The 100th international century by Sachin Tendulkar is another motivation which could serve the Indians well.

Tendulkar was laid low by sickness at Lord’s and in the second innings at Trent Bridge, support from the other end could have got him past the line.

His big moment would arrive sooner than later but if it does at Edgbaston, Indians would be better off it.

Teams (from):

England: Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior (wk), Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Chris Tremlett, Tim Bresnan.

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), Gautam Gambhir, Abhinav Mukund, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Suresh Raina, Pragyan Ojha, Praveen Kumar, R P Singh, Ishant Sharma, Amit Mishra, Munaf Patel, Wriddhiman Saha, S Sreesanth.

Match starts at 3:30pm (IST).(PTI)

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