Spotlight back on cricket in Chennai (Lead)

December 10th, 2008 - 5:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Chennai, Dec 10 (IANS) England team’s character would be on test as Kevin Pietersen’s beleaguered side take on a rampant India in the first Test at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium, here Thursday.In the backdrop of the recent Mumbai terrorist attacks that led to England packing their bags and leaving for home with two of the seven One Day Internationals (ODI) still to be played last month, the Test match is not without significance in the context of the ability of the players to put mind over matter.

If the Indians are on a high following the 5-0 thrashing of England in the ODI series that underlined the glaring disparity between the two teams in not just performance level but also leadership, then England would be hoping to feed on the new-found bonding and unity to rediscover the kind of form they showed in 2005 when they won the Ashes series at home.

Pietersen’s captaincy has come under increasing scrutiny in the wake of the drubbing England received in the ODI series, but he has shown that he is man enough to rally his players to do his bidding, including returning to India to continue the tour in an exacting environment. He would need all those qualities and some more on the field if he hopes to keep pace with the Indians who are in the midst of a dream run under Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s astute captaincy.

India, in fact, appears a settled combination with strength and depth in both batting and bowling. The recent 2-0 series win against world champions Australia has obviously put the hosts in good heart and it is more than likely that Dhoni would be keen on retaining the combination whose performance has exceeded all expectations.

Alistair Cook, the talented opener, perhaps summed it up succinctly when he said that it was important for England to overcome the many distractions, not the least the oppressive security and to carry on as professionals if they hope to win a Test match.

But then, England would have to be wary of the potent Indian batting that on its day can be destructive.

With Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir emerging as a dangerous and daring opening pair, and the likes of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V. V. S. Laxman, Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni to follow, India boast of a solid batting line-up that can blunt the sharpest of bowling attacks.

Likewise, India’s bowling attack is likely to be the same with Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma sharing the new ball, and Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra heading the spin front. However, given the weather conditions India could be tempted to opt for a third specialist seamer in Munaf Patel for Mishra.

Meanwhile, England will field two slow bowlers in left-arm spinner Monty Panesar and off-spinner Graeme Swann who will be making his Test debut. They will back up fast bowlers Steve Harmison and James Anderson while all-rounder Andrew Flintoff will double up as the third seamer.

The other surprise inclusion is wicket-keeper Matt Prior who had a poor ODI series. But Pietersen said Prior was a better batting option than Tim Ambrose. Andrew Strauss and Cook will head the batting order followed by Ian Bell, Pietersen and Paul Collingwood.

The England line-up indicates a pitch with bounce and turn, unlike the flat track on which India and South Africa had played out a drawn match in March this year.

The weather, that has been rather damp with intermittent showers in the past couple of days, has since turned sunny though the Met office has forecast some rains later this week. But if the rains stay away, then the conditions would be near perfect for an exciting contest.

The teams (from):

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V. V. S. Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Amit Mishra, Subramaniam Badrinath, Murali Vijay, Munaf Patel and Pragyan Ojha.

England: Kevin Pietersen (captain), Andrew Strauss, Alistair Cook, Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood, Andrew Flintoff, Matt Prior, Graeme Swann, Steve Harmison, James Anderson and Monty Panesar.

Umpires: Billy Bowden (New Zealand) and Daryl Harper (Australia). Third umpire: Suresh Shastri (India).

Match referee: Jeff Crowe (New Zealand).

Match timings: 9.30 am to 11.30 am; 12.10 pm to 2.10 pm; 2.30 pm to 4.30 pm.

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