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Team India to carry positive attitude

The reminiscences of the late but valiant attempt for victory in Nagpur will surely serve to boost the morale.

india Updated: Mar 09, 2006 04:37 IST

Boosted by a valiant attempt for victory in the final session in the first Test in Nagpur, India would be keen to carry that positive attitude into the second Test startingon Thursday.

India changed the batting order to make a brave attempt to score 237 runs in the last session, catching England by surprise for a moment in the post-tea final session.

After Wasim Jaffer's maiden century and quick runs from Irfan Pathan and Sachin Tendulkar, poor light deprived the fans from watching a potentially thrilling finish.

Although England performed unexpectedly well, especially in the absence of their four top players, it was India who surprised everyone with their late charge for victory at the Vidarbha Cricket Association ground.

The late attempt to go 1-0 up in the three-Test series will surely boost the confidence of India, who will have a different problem while picking the XI for the second Test at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium.

With Yuvraj Singh having recovered from a hamstring injury and fit to resume battle-- he is an automatic starter after his batting exploits in Pakistan-- the five national selectors and the team management have an issue on their hands.

They will have to debate and arrive at a tough decision on whether to drop VVS Laxman or off-spinner Harbhajan Singh-- the only players with apparent weak cases-- from the XI to accommodate Yuvraj who missed the Nagpur match.

Since his first-innings knock of 90 in the second Test against Pakistan in Faisalabad in January, Laxman's Test scores have been: 8 not out, 19, 21, 0 and he did not bat in the second innings in Nagpur.

If he is persisted with-- and it will be his experience of 73 Tests that will save him-- the axe could well fall on Mohammed Kaif, who scored a cautious 91 in the only innings he batted in Nagpur.

Harbhajan has struggled for wickets since taking 10 wickets to spin India to a win in the third Test against Sri Lanka in Ahmedabad. Since that 10-wicket haul, the Punjab spinner has taken only two wickets in 145 overs in five innings with an average of 263.50.

Harbhajan has struggled with a finger injury as well, and missed the third Test in Karachi due to this.

However, it will be a tougher decision to drop Harbhajan, a proven match winner otherwise, as captain Rahul Dravid backs him and Mohali is his home ground.

Harbhajan can always get inspired by the huge home support, which he always gets while playing here, and he can also contribute with the bat.

Apart from this-- Dravid describes this selection issue as a "nice headache to have"-- and slow batting on the fifth day morning while chasing 368 for win in the whole day, India can count on several gains from Nagpur.

Opener Jaffer's 81 and 100 in his comeback Test after almost four years, debutant and bubbly pacer Sreesanth's four wickets from his inspired bowling, Mohammed Kaif's dogged 91, Dravid's 71 and Anil Kumble's 58 were the positives in the first Test.

Besides his fourth Test half-century, Kumble will also have another bigger reason to look forward to Mohali.

The match-winning leg-spinner is just four wickets away from becoming the first Indian to take 500 Test wickets.

Currently placed fifth in the all-time wicket takers' list, Kumble has captured 496 scalps at 29.01 in 104 Tests since his debut in 1990.

The Bangalore-based spinner, who managed just two wickets in Nagpur, will also draw inspiration from a Mohali pitch on which he spun his team to victory the last time they played against England here in 2001. He bagged 10 wickets in that 10-wicket win.

Dravid, who made his debut against England in 1996, would also look forward to this Test, his 99th, and the final one in Mumbai, his 100th. He completed 1,000 runs against England during his second-innings 71 in Nagpur.

England, on the other hand, are also confident-- perhaps more than India-- despite the absence of four players, including captain Michael Vaughan and his deputy Marcus Trescothick, who have returned home due to either injuries or personal reasons.

Two of the replacements for batsmen Vaughan and Trescothick, left-arm spinner Ashley Giles and pacer Simon Jones-- Alastair Cook and Ian Blackwell-- performed beyond expectations.

Cook, flown in from the West Indies where he was playing for England 'A', cracked a superb century on his debut and Blackwell also did not disappoint.

The most admiring aspect of the Andrew Flintoff-led England was their ability to fight back, putting the absence of the experienced four out of their minds.

Another revelation was left-arm spinner Monty Panesar, who showed no nerves and accounted for Sachin Tendulkar for his maiden Test wicket.

Apart from the Indian batsmen, Panesar would be under a different kid of pressure in Mohali as his Ludhiana-based grandparents of the Luton-born spinner would also be watching him from the stands.

Paul Collingwood, who also scored his maiden ton besides an unbeaten 36, was another big plus, as was Kevin Pieterson with the bat.

England's fielding was also above par, and much better than India's second innings when they dropped some crucial catches to let the visitors rise to a strong position.

The two countries have played 92 Tests, with India winning 16 and England 33. The rest, 43, were drawn.

Teams:

India: Rahul Dravid (captain), Virender Sehwag, Wasim Jaffer, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wicket keeper), Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla, Irfan Pathan, Sreesanth, Rudra Pratap Singh and Munaf Patel.

England: Andrew Flintoff (captain), Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood, Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Geraint Jones (wicket keeper), Kevin Pietersen, Liam Plunkett, Matt Prior, Andrew Strauss, Shaun Udal, Monty Panesar, Ian Blackwell, James Anderson, Alastair Cook and Owais Shah

Umpires: Darrel Hair and Simon Taufel (both Australia). Third umpire: AV Jayaprakash (India). Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka).

First Published: Mar 08, 2006 12:20 IST