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India search for the turn, England for a turnaround

- Captain Dhoni says it will be a 2-2 attack and Bhajji will have to wait
Virender Sehwag

Mumbai: How Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Team India are loving this! Having opened up fresh wounds in England’s spin scars, they are hoping that this old subcontinental demon will continue to haunt Alastair Cook’s men throughout the series.

Humiliated and tormented almost 15 months ago, they are aiming to repay Alastair Cook and Co. in their own coin after having inflicted a nine-wicket thrashing in Ahmedabad.

If cricket is about mind games, Dhoni has only compounded the visitors’ mental torture by asking for rank turners from Day I itself. The Team India captain, though, tried to calm frayed tempers in the aftermath of his comments by saying, “I was just trying to keep the toss out of the equation... But people are taking it differently…”

He, however, didn’t waste an opportunity to take a dig at those who have been critical. “People talk of different challenges when it comes to seaming wickets in New Zealand and bouncier tracks in Australia... When they come to India they think of flat wickets... So may be that is the reason they criticise...” said Dhoni on the eve of the second Test.

The Wankhede wicket may aid more turn and bounce than England expect. The red soil is expected to make it bouncier, and as Dhoni admitted, the early morning moisture and the late afternoon sea breeze will help the seamers too.

England will possibly take some hope and confidence from the fact that they won at this venue in 2006.

Despite Cook’s faith in his players, there’s no doubt that it will take an effort of monumental proportions to overturn history — only two visiting teams have come back to draw a series after losing the opening Test in India, New Zealand in 1969-70 and the West Indies in 1994-95. Moreover, India have only lost a Test series once at home after winning the opening game — against David Gower’s side in 1984-85.

The batting of Alastair Cook and Matt Prior in the second innings may have come as a silver lining but there’s no denying the fact that the rest were left clueless. Don’t forget while Cook and Prior scored 356 runs between them, the others contributed 203.

Nick Compton looked good only briefly but Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell were the biggest disappointments. Bell has since returned home for the birth of his son while Piertersen’s dismissal has silenced those who saw his return as a guarantee for their success.

Wiser by the experience, England are not going to be fooled by the pitch by picking the wrong bowling attack. With Steven Finn ruled out again, it’s almost certain that Monty Panesar is going to play here alongside Graeme Swann, James Anderson and Stuart Broad. There’s, however, a question mark over Broad, who missed practice on Thursday because of illness.

The Indians are likely to go in with a 2-2 attack with Ishant Sharma replacing the injured Umesh Yadav. The Vidarbha pacer, who provided the vital breakthroughs in the first Test, is nursing a sore back.

“We will go in with a 2-2 combination… Harbhajan (Singh) has to wait for the next match… Sometimes one has to wait for the right time, especially when (Pragyan) Ojha and (Ravichandran) Ashwin are really bowling well,” said Dhoni.

In case there’s a rethink and Harbhajan is included, making it a 3-1 attack, one of the spinners will have to open with Zaheer Khan, who was rested during training on Thursday.

Counting on the gains, Virender Sehwag’s return to form was a big plus for the side. The opener is set to play his 100th Test, the ninth Indian to do so, and the focus will stay on him. No wonder he will be keen to join Gordon Greenidge and Javed Miandad as men with centuries in both their first and 100th Tests.

Knowing Sehwag’s style and approach, it will come as no surprise if he decides to make the landmark memorable by an innings of Usain Bolt’s velocity. Perhaps humming a Kishore Kumar classic will serve as the perfect inspiration!

For Mumbai’s own Sachin Tendulkar, will this be his last Test at home? Dhoni is not going to be swayed by such speculation.

“When it comes to Sachin, the best thing is not to speculate. He may come and play few more Test matches. Let us wait and watch. Enjoy the cricket the way he plays,” the Indian captain remarked.

For the record, the Master, then in his search for his 100th International hundred, had disappointed millions by getting dismissed for 94 in the first innings in his last Test here, against the West Indies.

Having scored a Ranji century on this wicket a fortnight back, this will be Sachin’s chance to make amends.

TEAMS

India (likely): Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ravichandran Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Pragyan Ojha, Ishant Sharma.

England (likely): Alastair Cook, Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan, Samit Patel, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad/Stuart Meaker, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Monty Panesar.

Umpires: Aleem Dar, Tony Hill. TV: S. Ravi.

Match Referee: Roshan Mahanama.

Match starts: 9.30 am.