Under-pressure India look to bounce back against England
With the four-Test series levelled at 1-1 after India's ploy to prepare a turning track backfired in Mumbai, the hosts will seek to bounce back as they go into the third cricket Test against England here tomorrow with intense pressure on their under-performing star players to deliver before its too late.
After India's humiliating loss in the second Test, the build-up to the Eden match was marked by a pitch row that began with a desperate Dhoni insisting for a rank-turner, which led to the local curator Prabir Mukherjee calling the Indian skipper "immoral and unethical".
To resolve the matter, the BCCI sent East Zone curator Ashish Bhowmick to "assist" Mukherjee. The pitch for the match has drawn a lot more attention because of the controversy and it remains to be seen whether the hosts can put everything behind them and focus on the game.
India have never lost a series to England since 1984-85 when David Gower's team had returned home with a 2-1 win but over the last one year Dhoni and Co. have lost much ground beneath their feet as they have slipped to number 5 in the world rankings from being number one at one stage.
While India's pride will be up for stake, England would look to prove that they are not inept against spin and can win a series on Indian soil as well. Aided by skipper Alastair Cook's super show with two centuries from two Tests, and the most-destructive Kevin Pietersen showing in the last Test what he is capable of, England had buried India at their own den at the Wankhede, sealing a 10-wicket. On a pitch that turned from ball one, England showed great resilience to bounce back after their first Test defeat in Ahmedabad, while Indians struggled in all the departments of the game.
The three-pronged spin attack did not yield desired results and in batting department, barring Cheteshwar Pujara, all big names failed miserably. The opening pair of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir's inconsistency combined with Sachin Tendulkar's prolonged slump form -- 153 runs from last 10 innings -- has not done India any good.
However, Tendulkar has managed to remain unmoved by the critics and instead chose to slog at the nets for hours. A century here will certainly change things for him as well as for the team.
Even Virat Kohli has been unusually quiet in this series so far. Despite having a great year, he hasn't scored a big knock in the last four innings. India would hope that the promising right-hander comes out of his recent slump sooner than later. Kohli can take heart from 107-odd runs he had scored against Sri Lanka in a 2009 One-dayer here. India's bowling had also came a cropper in last the two Tests.
The spin department led by veteran Harbhajan Singh completely flopped. Harbhajan himself looked a shade of his past, while the duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha seemed pedestrian as compared to England's Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann, both of whom shared 19 of 20 wickets on offer.
Pacer Zaheer Khan seemed to have lacked match fitness as he not only failed to pick a wicket, but also could not use the reverse swing. Harbhajan, who is eyeing 100th Test cap, has been the most destructive Indian bowler at Eden Gardens with 46 wickets (including six five-wicket hauls) from seven Tests at 21.76. But he is down with flu and it looks unlikely that he will be in the playing eleven tomorrow since the team management may opt for two seamers and two spinners.
It will be a tricky situation for Dhoni to chose the bowling combination, especially after drawing severe criticism for his selection of three spinners and a pacer at Wankhede.
Englishmen's frailty for the away going deliveries means that Ojha, in all likelihood, would make the cut, while Ashwin is likely to retain his place. Local lad Ashok Dinda may be hoping to earn his maiden Test berth but with the experienced Zaheer around, and Ishant Sharma in the ranks, he may be warming the bench.
By all means India would be desperately making vast improvements in order to bounce back into the series, something they have done with aplomb in the past. The historic Eden Gardens too will inspire the Indians, who have scored more than 600 in their last three Tests, winning two and drawing one with their last loss here coming more than a decade back -- against Pakistan in the Asian Test Championship 1998-99.
As per the wicket, it has always known to have assisted some seam movement early on before getting slow and low from day two. This time too it seems to be no different. The wicket on offer would be the one that a fortnight ago hosted a Bengal-Gujarat Ranji match and Gujarat forced out a draw with their No 8 and 9 batting out the last day with a century-plus partnership.
England may include pacer Steve Finn, who is raring to go after overcoming a thigh injury, which forced him out of the first two Tests. Finn took 4-50 in 16 overs during the England Performance Programme's victory over the DY Patil Academy XI last week and England might pick him to trouble Indian batsmen with pace and bounce early on. The 23-year-old fast bowler may cost a struggling Stuart Board a place in the side.
"If I'm picked as part of a two-man seam attack, I might be used in a strike-bowling capacity," Finn said.
In Panesar and Swann, the Englishmen have the house in order in the spin department. Their success will depend heavily on the duo's consistent performance, even as India would look to dominate spinners as they have done in the past.
As far as batting is concerned, middle-order batsman Ian Bell has returned after going on a paternity leave and he may replace Jonny Bairstow. Australia, in their quest to conquer the 'final frontier' in 2001, were jolted in Kolkata when the venue had provided the perfect turnaround courtesy a VVS Laxman-Rahul Dravid epic show.
Down 0-1, India had gone on to win the series 2-1 with back-to-back victories at Eden Gardens and Chepauk.
The historic series, now a part of a cricketing folklore, will certainly serve as an inspiration for the beleaguered Dhoni's men.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (c), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravichandran Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Murali Vijay, Ashok Dinda.
England: Alastair Cook (c), Nick Compton, Joe Root, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior, Jonny Bairstow, Samit Patel, Graeme Swann, Monty Panesar, James Anderson, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, Graham Onions, Stuart Meaker, James Tredwell. Match starts at 9 am IST.