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India will need to stem the initial leakage of runs

S. Dinakar

Harbhajan Singh versus the fleet-footed Kevin Pietersen is a contest that bristles with possibilities


here is a compelling argument for giving Harbhajan Singh the new ball, and Piyush Chawla — who is imparting more revolutions on his leg-spin these days — might make the eleven ahead of Sreesanth.

Bangalore: On a day that began with an injury scare to Virender Sehwag before the BCCI came up with reassuring news about the status of the mercurial opener's rib-cage, the Indian think-tank thought long and hard about the tactics to be adopted for Sunday's much-awaited game here against England.

Prime batsmen getting hurt at the nets is not uncommon. A mean delivery from Pandurang Salgoankar, among India's quickest bowlers never to have figured in a Test, put the legendary Sunil Gavaskar out of a major portion of the epic 1974-75 home Test series against Clive Lloyd's West Indies. However, the in-form Sehwag is expected to be up and running on Sunday.

India's strategy versus England will also hinge on the weather. It rained rather heavily here on Friday evening; the forecast for Sunday is more encouraging though.

Jousting for position

Both the sides could only be a game away from booking their passage to the quarterfinals and a defeat at the burnished Chinnaswamy Stadium might not hamper their progress.

But then, both India and England would be seeking to avoid meeting either Australia or Sri Lanka in the last eight stage. Also, every win has immense psychological value in itself. Dishing out winning cricket is a lot about confidence and momentum gained from victories from every duel leading to the knock-out phase. One does not have to look beyond Australia's astonishing run from the 1999 World Cup to see the point.

If the clouds stay away, India could well field two specialist spinners in spearhead Harbhajan Singh and leggie Piyush Chawla. The Englishmen, traditionally, are not the most assured players of leg-spin and Chawla could well replace Santhakumaran Sreesanth in the eleven.

The two-plus-two attack — two specialist pacemen and an equal number of spinners — could work for India.

How South Africa — the side's strength is pace — employed its two specialist spinners and cleverly mixed its attack against the West Indies might provide a clue or two to India.

Graeme Smith is not exactly known for his judicious use of spinners. However, the South African skipper was spot on against the West Indies in New Delhi.

Off-spinner Johan Botha sent down the first over of the contest and prised out the dangerous Chris Gayle, snapped up at slip. The ploy of using an off-spinner against a southpaw had succeeded.

South Africa's management of overs in this match is indeed interesting. Botha sent down three overs with the new ball — he bowled in tandem with the fast and furious Dale Steyn — before making way for Morne Morkel.

And South Africa's second spinner, promising leg-spinner Imran Tahir, was introduced in the 14th over. The side could, subsequently, employ a shrewd combination of pace and spin during the critical middle overs with left-arm spinner Robin Petersen chipping in too.

Of course, South Africa had a third paceman in formidable all-rounder Jacques Kallis to add depth and balance to the attack. India does not possess such a luxury — the fifth bowler's slot would have to be shared between the non-specialist left-arm spin combination of Yuvraj Singh and Yusuf Pathan.

New ball for Harbhajan?

India could well begin with Harbhajan for two reasons. Andrew Strauss is a southpaw and the indomitable Kevin Pietersen is a daredevil who accepts a challenge. Harbhajan versus the fleet-footed Pietersen is a contest that bristles with possibilities.

The host would also use its two best bowlers — Zaheer and Harbhajan — upfront against England's most accomplished batsmen, Strauss and Pietersen.

Control and denial of speed and width are invariably major factors in a bowler's success in the sub-continental conditions. Zaheer and Harbhajan represent India's best options.

India needs to stem the leakage of runs in the initial overs and force the English batsmen to take more risks during Power Play. It is extremely important for the Indian bowlers to build pressure on the English batsmen from either end.

Munaf as first change

The rhythmic Munaf Patel could operate as first change and Chawla might trouble the Englishmen with his wrong 'uns that fizz off the pitch; the bubbly bowler is also imparting more revolutions on his leg-spin.

India, thus, would be playing to its strength — spin — in these conditions.

M.S. Dhoni could manoeuvre his attack in such a manner that Zaheer and Harbhajan still have overs left during the batting Power Play.

Precision in managing the overs, without losing flexibility, is the path to success for India.

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