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Zak and Co yet to gather steam

While preparing for the Test series, an area of concern for England is their opening combination. Zaheer and Ishant haven't looked their best; they need to get into the groove quickly if they are to trouble England’s top order. Sanjjeev K Samyal reports. Elsewhere in Ranji Trophy...

cricket Updated: Nov 04, 2012 01:29 IST
Sanjjeev K Samyal

While preparing for the Test series, an area of concern for England is their opening combination. While skipper Alastair Cook will be oozing with confidence after the hundred in the tour opener against India 'A' earlier this week, he will have some thinking to do over the choice of his partner. The candidates: Somerset's Nick Compton has failed twice and Yorkshire's Joe Root also didn't get runs in his first innings against Mumbai 'A'.

Normally, not having a settled combination is a big chink in the armour, which the opposition can exploit.

However, the England camp may not be losing sleep as they are up against an India side whose new-ball attack is yet to pick up momentum.

Judging by their current matches, India only have Umesh Yadav firing on all cylinders, claiming a five-for at Haryana. But the other likely members of the attack, Mumbai's Zaheer Khan and Delhi's Ishant Sharma, made a slow start in their Ranji openers.

The leader of the pack, Zaheer, bowled nine overs for just 13 runs and had a catch dropped against the Railways on Saturday. But looking beyond the numbers, the performance was some way off compared to his high standards.

It was an effort that wouldn't have delighted the chairman of selectors, Sandeep Patil, who was present at the Wankhede Stadium. He will not be happy to know about Ishant's bowling against Uttar Pradesh either, where at one stage the Suresh Raina-led team were 232 for one.

The nip is missing
When at his best, Zaheer's run-up is a lot smoother and the strides quicker than what we saw in his two spells, five with the new ball and four after a short breather on the second evening, as Railways ended Day 2 at 86 for two in pursuit of the hosts' 570.

A master of swing, he bowled well within himself and did not generate the nip which makes him difficult to negotiate. The lack of pace allowed the visiting batsmen to adjust even to the late movement.

In his spell with the new ball, Zaheer used the short stuff more than he normally does to have figures of 5-0-11-0. In his second spell, trying a change of ends, he put in more shoulder, but struggled with direction to finish the day with 9-2-13-0.

The advantage of Zaheer is that he has such good understanding of his game that he can analyse and bring in changes quickly to emerge a completely transformed bowler in the next game. An example was in the last series against England where he was pedestrian in the warm-up game against Somerset but a different entity when the Test began at Lord's a few days later.

In the 13.3 overs he bowled (including eight maidens), before limping off with a hamstring injury, he had the England top order at his mercy.

In Ishant's case, the concern is converting the potential into results, for there is a question mark over whether he has mastered the art of taking wickets. Throughout the England and Australia tours last year, he kept bowling with pace and movement, but the effort didn't translate into wickets.

Patil & Co will be worried about his performance against UP on Saturday. Did the two wickets measure up to the effort he put in?

Mumbai on top
Mumbai pushed Railways on the backfoot as they amassed a massive first innings total of 570 all out. If Sachin Tendulkar and Ajinkya Rahane had hogged the limelight on the first day with strokeful centuries, it was Abhishek Nayar who impressed on the second day with an unbeaten 107.