England’s problems have increased manifold since the big defeat in the first Test last week. The second Test starts in Mumbai from Friday and they are surely under the pump, even more so after India captain MS Dhoni’s instructions to the curators that they must produce favourable pitches for spin bowling through the remaining three Tests.
At Ahmedabad, England’s shortcomings against spin came to the fore again and their collapse on the second evening and third morning proved irreparable, with all due respect to Alastair Cook for his outstanding century. Pragyan Ojha, who bagged nine wickets in the match, was England’s chief tormenter and barring Cook, who made a brilliant 176 in the second innings, and Matt Prior, the rest of England’s batsmen looked under a spell against Ojha and R Ashwin (in the first innings).
The visitors have some selection dilemmas too. Ian Bell has gone back to England for the birth of his first child, and that brings Jonny Bairstow in the picture. Bairstow, who smashed 118 in the warm-up against India A, is the favourite to replace Bell ahead of Eoin Morgan.
Tim Bresnan’s place in the side is also in doubt after a very poor outing in the first Test. With Steven Finn ruled out of on account of a thigh injury, it’s highly likely that England will go in with either Graham Onions or Stuart Meaker ahead of Bresnan. The left-arm spinner Samit Patel is also certain to lose his place to Monty Panesar after being taken to the cleaners by the Indian batsmen in Ahmedabad. Cook and Andy Flower came in for a lot of criticism for preferring Patel over Panesar.
Stuart Broad too is seriously under the scanner. His Twitter spat with Ian Botham made headlines for the last few days and the team management will hope he sticks to making the ball to all the talking after a listless performance in the first Test.
India too might be forced to make a change. Fast bowler Umesh Yadav has picked up a lower back injury and Bengal medium-pacer Ashok Dinda has been called as cover for him. If Yadav does not play it will be a big setback for India as it will disrupt the winning composition and deny the team a serious shot of pace. Yadav’s spirited bowling kept England at bay and that made Ojha and Ashwin all the more effective. In case he doesn’t feature, it’s highly probable that Ishant Sharma will take his place. The Indian camp must be keeping their fingers crossed on Yadav’s fitness.
India’s batting is less of a concern now. Cheteshwar Pujara, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh got plenty of runs in Ahmedabad, but Sachin Tendulkar is still a concern. His inexplicable dismissal in the only innings he played has kept fans waiting for him to come good. The Wankhede is his home venue so the expectancy levels are only heightened. Gautam Gambhir, who didn’t bat in India’s second innings on account of his grandmother’s death, has rejoined the team, and he is another player who is under pressure to come good.
The Wankhede Stadium is known to be partial to spinners, and with India determined to avenge their 4-0 defeat during their tour to England last year, things at the moment look very bleak for the visitors.
India: 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Chesteshwar Pujara, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Virat Kohli, 6 Yuvraj Singh, 7 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 8 Zaheer Khan, 9 R Ashwin, 10 Umesh Yadav/Ishant Sharma, 11 Pragyan Ojha
England: 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Nick Compton, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Jonny Bairstow, 6 Matt Prior (wk), 7 Stuart Broad, 8 Graeme Swann, 9 James Anderson, 10 Graham Onions/Stuart Meaker, 11 Monty Panesar