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India look to wrap up series with a win

Having taken an unassailable 1-0 lead, India will seek to give Dravid a perfect gift on his 100th Test in Mumbai.

india Updated: Mar 17, 2006 18:48 IST

Having taken an unassailable 1-0 lead, Team India will seek to give captain Rahul Dravid the perfect gift on his landmark 100th Test by winning the third and final cricket Test against England who have been further weakened by the injury to pace spearhead Steve Harmison.

The hosts, upbeat after their nine-wicket win in the Mohali Test, have retained the same squad but it remains to be seen whether they will go in with five specialist bowlers at the Wankhede stadium where the track was expected to assist the slow bowlers.

The visitors, plagued by injury worries right through the series, will badly miss the services of the lanky Harmison who has been ruled out because of a shin injury.

But Andrew Flintoff and his men, desperately looking to square the series at a gound which has not been too lucky for them, have to pull up their socks to counter the Indians who have found quite a few youngsters capable of turning the game on its head.

If the Indians decide to deploy five specialist bowlers, the stylish V V S Laxman and Mohammed Kaif would be forced to warm the reserves' bench like they did in Mohali.

Leg spinner Piyush Chawla could be sacrificed to include an extra pacer in S Sreesanth, who has recovered from his illness which forced him to sit out the Mohali match.

However, another youngster Munaf Patel, whose seven wicket haul and his ability to reverse-swing the ball at a good pace undid the English batting at Mohali, is sure to relish the conditions where the sea breeze late in the afternoon helps to move the ball in the air.

But if the Indian think-tank decides to play it safe after having taken a 1-0 lead, then the extra batsman could make it to the eleven at the cost of the fifth bowler.

England will be missing five key players, including regular captain Michael Vaughan, who played important roles in the Ashes triumph against Australia at home.

History, along with current form, are against the visiting team whose hopes of at least drawing the Test series, after their dreams of winning a rubber in India after more than two decades were shattered at Mohali.

Dravid stood like the veritable rock of Gibraltar to guide India through choppy seas in the first two matches and is now on the threshold of entering the elite bunch of five other players from the country who have been capped 100 or more times.

With scores of 40, 71, 95 and 42 not out, 'The Wall' has been the key batsman for India in the series and the player the Englishmen would like most to be dismissed as cheaply as possible.

He, along with spinner Anil Kumble, made India forget the fact that most of the others, including the great Sachin Tendulkar, have failed to click.

However, Tendulkar, who becomes India's highest capped player with 132 matches on Saturday, will try to break the shackles of low scores in the series.

The good news for India from the victory at Mohali was the return to form of swashbuckler Virender Sehwag whose all-too-short stays at the crease earlier on were a cause for concern.

The Delhi marauder's well constructed innings of 76 not out during India's victory chase will no doubt give him a lot of confidence.

But a big cause of worry for India is the inability of off spinner Harbhajan Singh to be among the wickets.

His fruitless toil in Pakistan on featherbed tracks seems to have dented the Sikh's confidence a bit, but he would also relish the bounce the Mumbai wicket offers traditionally on the first two days of a match.

Kumble, who completed a phenomenal 500 Test wickets in Mohali after having joined the elite 100-Test club in the previous home series against Sri Lanka, stands as the biggest stumbling block for the visiting team's endeavour to go home with the rubber squared.

The 35-year-old spinner remains the one Indian bowler most dreaded by the visitors with his ability to bowl on and on and apply pressure relentlessly.

Unless the England batsmen unravel the mystery of how to tackle this lion-hearted veteran, it would be difficult for them to nurture any hopes of levelling the series.

Kumble has mesmerised the Englishmen, who are traditionally weak against wrist spin, with his subtle variations of pace, turn and angles.

Skipper Flintoff has been the stand-out performer for the visitors after having stepped into the shoes of the absent Michael Vaughan to lead the side from the front in brilliant fashion and shine with the bat as well as the ball.

England have come a cropper in the last three Tests they have played at the Wankhede Stadium.

England have won one of the five matches a visiting squad has clinched at this venue, situated very close to the Arabian sea, when Ian Botham used the conditions to make the ball wobble and led the Indians to their doom with a fantastic 13-106 haul, the record at this ground, in the Indian Cricket Board's Golden Jubilee one-off tie in 1980.

The visiting team would be hoping for a similar outstanding display from their leader Flintoff who's widely touted as the former all-rounder's worthy successor.

Wankhede Stadium has been in general a happy hunting ground for the hosts who have won nine out of 20 ties played here since the inaugural tie they lost to the mighty West Indies team led by Clive Lloyd in 1974-75. Six matches have ended in stalemate.

Teams (from):

India: Rahul Dravid (capt), Virender Sehwag, Wasim Jaffer, Sachin Tendulkar, V V S Laxman, Mohd Kaif, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Irfan Pathan, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Munaf Patel, S Sreesanth, Piyush Chawla and R P Singh

England: Andrew Flintoff (capt), Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Geraint Jone (wk), Matthew Hoggard, Liam Plunkett, James Anderson, Monty Panesar, Ian Blackwell, Matt Prior, Owais Shah and Shaun Udal.

Hours of play: 10am to 12 noon; 1240 pm to 240 pm; 3 pm to 5 pm.

Umpires: Darrel Hair and Simon Taufel (both Australia).

Third umpire: K Hariharan (India).

First Published: Mar 17, 2006 11:41 IST