England v India, 5th ODI, Headingley September 1, 2007

India sweat over bowling resources



Rahul Dravid will be looking at Ajit Agarkar to repeat his Old Trafford heroics in Zaheer's absence © Getty Images

At Headingley, a venue where Fred Trueman often terrorised batsmen, India continue to sweat over their fast bowling resources ahead of the fifth one-dayer - one they have to win to stay alive in the series.

Paul Collingwood, England's captain, says the surface is a "typical Headingley pitch". It's generally been good for batting (Sri Lanka hunted down 322 in a stunning 37.3 overs here last year) but one needs to go back to 1999 for the previous 250-plus total.

That increases the importance of a full-strength attack but Zaheer Khan, who twisted his left ankle while batting in the last game, looks increasingly unlikely to play. He missed practice on Saturday and is set to undergo a fitness test on Sunday morning. His likely replacement, Munaf Patel, has turned in a couple of disappointing performances in this series while RP Singh and Ajit Agarkar have struggled with their consistency. With the pitch at Headingley expected to help the faster bowlers early on, and conditions likely to be overcast, India could be severely hampered. Zaheer's absence, if he doesn't come through, could be critical.

"We're monitoring his [Zaheer's] situation," Rahul Dravid said ahead of the game, adding that he was unlikely to take part in the pre-match practice session. "He's been treated by the physio and is on ice. The physio says there's been improvement. We have 24 hours and he'll go through a fitness test before the game. Obviously we want to give him as much time as possible. The good thing is he had the injury while batting and was able to bowl after that. His ankle is fine and if it holds up well it will be great. It was a bit swollen after the game but it's come down drastically in the last 24 hours."

With a long season ahead, including two big Test series against Pakistan and Australia, it appears as if India would want to err on the side of caution. "You obviously want your best bowlers to play when you're two down and need to win the next three. But if he's not fit, he's not fit. There's not going to be an issue on that. If the physio and Zaheer feel he's not fit, we're going to play someone else. His management is important to us for himself and for the team."

Dravid admitted that Munaf hadn't bowled well in the couple of chances he'd been given but felt it was just a case of "getting some bowling" in. Venkatesh Prasad, India's bowling coach, had earlier suggested Munaf wasn't bowling with the desired intensity.

"There's no problem in terms of fitness, in terms of injury," Dravid said. "The problem he had with his back has settled down. He hasn't bowled well, probably been a bit inconsistent. Everything I gather from the bowling coach is that he's improving constantly. He's looking up, looking ahead. He's got to get some bowling in. The more he bowls the better it will be for him. We've given him a couple of games here. He's also going to stay back to play some cricket at Worcester. It's up to him."

RP Singh, like Zaheer, appears to be tiring at the end of a long tour, one where he's already bowled 195.3 overs in more than two months. The only silver lining appears to be Ajit Agarkar's wicket-taking burst at Old Trafford but that came at the price of 60 runs in ten overs.

"Ajit's got some good rhythm," Dravid said. "We knew we needed wickets in that game and he came back well. He bowled well in the early part of the tour and then went away and came back. He too [like Munaf] needed a bit of bowling. He's got that and is OK."

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo

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