England face uphill task in third test
MUMBAI: England will fight against all the odds to prevent a second straight series defeat when they face India in the third and final test starting on Saturday.
The injury-depleted tourists crashed to a nine-wicket loss in the second test in Mohali on Monday after forcing a gritty draw in the first game in Nagpur.
Leg-spinner Anil Kumble triggered a batting collapse to claim nine wickets and set up the victory along with debutant paceman Munaf Patel, who grabbed seven.
Andrew Flintoff, leading in the absence of injured skipper Michael Vaughan, said after the defeat that his young side would fight to avoid a repeat of the 2-0 series loss in Pakistan.
Should India protect or build on their lead, England will lose second place in the ICC test rankings and slip to third behind Australia and India.
The key to England's success will depend largely on how their faltering top-order handles pressure.
The tourists have failed to get off to a good start in the series, barring the second innings of the first test where opening batsman Alastair Cook's century on debut and Kevin Pietersen's domineering 87 helped the team take control of the proceedings.
England were reduced 180 for five in the first innings of the second test before Flintoff and Geraint Jones helped stage a mini recovery with well-made half centuries.
The skipper's main task will be to inspire his inexperienced batsmen to avoid a repeat of the second innings collapse, where England lost five wickets after tea on day four to lose the test.
The all-rounder led by example, scoring fifties in both innings and picking four wickets in the Indian first innings.
England are contemplating two spinners on a turning pitch at the Wankhede Stadium.
Veteran off-spinner Shaun Udal could be handed a fourth test cap, replacing paceman Liam Plunkett, and pair up with left-arm spinner Monty Panesar.
"From what we have learned it is a two-spinner pitch, but we will have to look at it and then look at the number eight position," coach Duncan Fletcher told the ECB website, referring to the batting skills of left-arm spinner Ashley Giles, who is missing the series due to injury.
"Ashley has always offered us the balance which is required of a Test side. We probably wouldn't consider playing an extra batsman; that would be pretty difficult for us as we have to be wary of the workload of Steve Harmison and Flintoff."
The match will see Sachin Tendulkar and captain Rahul Dravid achieve another landmark in their careers.
Tendulkar will surpass Kapil Dev's record for most test appearances by an Indian, 131, at his home ground.
Dravid will be the sixth Indian after Kapil, Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Tendulkar and Kumble to play 100 tests.
The focus will be on Tendulkar, who has not gone past 28 in nine innings since scoring his world record 35th test hundred against Sri Lanka in December.
He has made only 16, 28 not out and four so far in this series after aggregating 63 in three innings in the recent 1-0 test series loss in Pakistan.
India look set to recall Vangipurappu Laxman or Mohammad Kaif into the middle order by dropping leg-spinner Piyush Chawla, who made his debut in Mohali as the fifth bowler.
Only six of 20 tests played at Wankhede have ended in a draw, none of the last four. The last time the two teams played on this ground, in February 1993, India won by an innings and 15 runs.
(China Daily 03/18/2006 page11)
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