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India bank on spin to trap England

Under-pressure India go into the second Test against gritty England on Thursday praying their spinners can conjure up the old match-winning magic.

india Updated: Mar 08, 2006 12:20 IST

Under-pressure India go into the second Test against gritty England on Thursday praying their spinners can conjure up the old match-winning magic.

The hosts got a wake-up call in the drawn opening Test at Nagpur when they were upstaged for the better part of the hard-fought match by a depleted England side.

The tourists, missing skipper Michael Vaughan, opener and vice-captain Marcus Trescothick and reverse-swing specialist Simon Jones, started as underdogs but gave India a scare before emerging from the contest with heads held high.

Vaughan, Trescothick and Jones, who returned home before the Nagpur Test, have all been ruled out of the ongoing three-Test series. Andrew Flintoff will retain the captaincy for the series.

India have lost just one Test series at home in the last five years, but must raise their game to maintain that impressive record.

Captain Rahul Dravid conceded that his bowlers, especially spinners, would have to work harder to keep England on the back foot.

"If we need to take 20 wickets, we will have to bowl better in the second Test," he said.

India failed to find match-winning bowlers at Nagpur as neither their seamers nor spinners could keep sustained pressure on the England batsmen.

Leg-spinner Anil Kumble and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh may have taken more than 700 Test wickets between them and masterminded many Test wins at home, but performed below their best to take just two wickets apiece.

"It is easy to be critical, but Harbhajan is a proven performer for us and I am sure that before the series is over, he will hopefully have a major role to play," said Dravid.

In contrast, England were well-served by debutant left-arm spinner Monty Panesar, the first Sikh to represent England in Tests.

The England spinner will remember for a long time his first three Test victims— Sachin Tendulkar, Dravid and Mohammad Kaif, all of them excellent batsmen of spin.

India also face a selection dilemma after middle-order batsman Yuvraj Singh's return to the squad from a hamstring injury.

Yuvraj, who impressed on India's tour of Pakistan recently, was replaced with Kaif who grabbed his chances to top-score with 91 at Nagpur.

India have yet to decide whether to accommodate both or one in place of Venkatsai Laxman, who fell for a duck in the first innings of the first Test.

England, seeking their first Test series win in India in 21 years, are bubbling with confidence after their newcomers' remarkable show.

Left-handed opener Alastair Cook, one of the three debutants after Panesar and Ian Blackwell, scored a gutsy 60 and 104 not out just a few days after arriving from the West Indies as one of the replacements.

"It does affect the morale sometimes when you lose key players before an important series, but the new boys have adjusted pretty well. Things have settled down for us," said England coach Duncan Fletcher.

"The three debutants were impressive. They contributed enough for the team. I am happy with the way the players applied themselves in the first Test and we expect a similar kind of performance here."

Fletcher said Flintoff will captain England for the rest of the tour, but conceded the extra responsibility may be too much in the longer term.

"At the moment it is a lot to do," said Fletcher. "Just as an all-rounder he had a lot to do. Adding the captaincy could be— you never know with the individual— what he needs to step his game up to another level.

"We will only find that out later on. There is a chance we might be asking a lot of him."

First Published: Mar 07, 2006 14:20 IST