The Wall stonewalls all worries
Rahul Dravid has been convinced all along he knew the XI he would go with into the first Test at Lord’s, and it’s certain he’s going to be proved as good as his word. England, though, seem to be hounded by uncertainty: Matthew Hoggard has been declared “extremely doubtful” to play the first Test after hurting his back in training.
Hoggard had sustained the injury on Tuesday and an England and Wales Cricket Board statement said he was going to undergo medical scans later on Wednesday. The home team is already without the injured Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison. That doesn’t hurt the visitors one bit as they aim to record only their second Test victory at Lord’s, though Dravid insisted he is not really following the misfortunes of the hosts.
Dravid heaped rich praise on Wasim Jaffer and MS Dhoni, clearly indicating that India do not face any selection dilemma — unlike England.
Jaffer has been struggling, his first three innings on the tour exposing his lack of footwork early on, leading to cheap dismissals; he hung around in the fourth innings against England Lions, and that could have proved decisive.
Dravid, though, indicated that for the first Test at least, Jaffer was not in danger. “In his last three Tests, he’s got two hundreds, so he’s a Test match player!” Dravid said, raising laughs.
“He’s working quite hard, we’d like more runs from him, but Wasim can go through a phase when it seems he’s struggling,” Dravid said with greater gravity. “But he can come up with that brilliant knock, like he did in South Africa and even in Bangladesh.”
Dhoni’s lack of runs and his rather indifferent show as a wicketkeeper — juxtaposed with the runs produced by Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir — had led to speculation that Dhoni might not see action at Lord’s. The captain ended all such talk. “Dhoni has not done anything wrong in his international career,” he said. “He’s got the attributes of a very good international player. Like everyone else, he’s going to have some good days and bad days.”
With speculation scotched, uncertainty banished, the Indian XI is likely to include three pacers (Zaheer Khan, S. Sreesanth, RP Singh), one spinner in Anil Kumble and seven batsmen — Jaffer, Karthik, Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman and Dhoni. Yuvraj, the one-day captain, seems certain to warm the bench.
The situation is more fluid in the English camp. The Hoggard blow means that Ryan Sidebottom will lead an inexperienced pace attack with at least one debutant, likely to be Stuart Broad. There could be another debutant if England opt for Chris Tremlett ahead of James Anderson.
Dravid, though, is not worrying about England. “I’m not concerned about what shape they are in, what their problems are,” Dravid said. “I’ve got a team to worry about, we have to focus on our own game.” But he did dwell on what the absence of Harmison or Freddie Flintoff means to England.
“When Flintoff is playing, England can afford to play five bowlers,” he said. “That makes a big difference.” And though the Indians are not likely to be as troubled by Monty Panesar as the West Indies were, Dravid chose to be cautious. “It’s going to be as much challenge for us as it is going for him,” he said. “The spinner becomes very important in a four-man attack… We have a champion in our side and if we play Monty well, it might put a lot of pressure on their seamers.”
England captain Michael Vaughan, who scored three centuries against India in 2002, said he would hope to keep that memory alive, especially since the Indian attack is familiar to him. “It is a similar kind of attack, with left-armers and (Anil) Kumble, just missing Harbhajan (Singh) from that attack,” he said. “But I’m going to have to start afresh.”
The Indians also look to past to raise visions of glory. “We haven’t won a series here for 20 years, it would be nice to do that this time,” Dravid said. Talking about the fact that he, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman haven’t scored a century at Lord’s, the captain said: “It’s not about scoring hundreds here, I don’t think any of us would like to score a hundred here and not win a match!”
And that’s another thing that’s for sure for India!