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December 18, 2008
Match factsDecember 19-23, 2008
Chennai may well be remembered as the Test match in which there were no losers, but try convincing England's cricketers of that fact as they traipse northwards to Mohali to start their campaign from scratch. For three days and two sessions, they held the upper hand over India, only for that ascendancy to be ripped from their grasp on a manic fourth evening. Virender Sehwag's irresistible volley of boundaries paved the way for Sachin Tendulkar's inexorable march to victory, as he and Yuvraj Singh added 165 unbeaten runs for the fifth wicket to coast home in front of an adulatory crowd.
What now, then, for England? Chennai was the scene of some extravagant personal performances from their cricketers - most notably the twin-centurion, Andrew Strauss - but they have emerged with nothing to show for their efforts save a significant amount of mental bruising. The scars in some cases are physical as well - the captain, Kevin Pietersen, played the first Test with a cracked rib, while Steve Harmison was receiving ongoing treatment for a knee niggle. It took an awful lot of soul-searching for England to make the return trip to India, to pick themselves up twice in a fortnight would be remarkable.
India, on the other hand, will saunter into Mohali with the confidence of a team that now believes that anything is possible. Tendulkar's 41st century is already being regarded as the crowning glory of his matchless career, while Yuvraj's unbeaten 85 could yet prove to be a watershed innings. Zaheer Khan once again demonstrated that he is the world's pre-eminent exponent of reverse swing, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni's cool marshalling of his players in a tensely-fought contest was another feather in his cap. Down in Perth, Australia and South Africa are supposedly competing for the right to be regarded as the world's best Test team, but many would argue that accolade has already been claimed elsewhere.
Form guide (last 5 Tests, most recent last)India DWDWW
Watch out forIt's hard to imagine quite what he could come up with for an encore, but Virender Sehwag's abilities are so astounding that England's bowlers would be forgiven for freezing every time he settles into his stance. James Anderson and Steve Harmison suffered badly at his hands in the one-day series, and on that pivotal fourth evening they were brutalised once again, to the tune of 83 runs from 68 deliveries. His onslaught broke the back of an insurmountable run-chase, and opened the door to history.
Who could ever have imagined that Rahul Dravid would be considered the weak link in an Indian batting line-up? England have been subjected to more than their fair share of Dravid masterclasses down the years, so the likes of Flintoff and Harmison will scarcely recognise the shuffling, diffident figure currently in their midst. Speed of scoring has never been his forte, but now that his legendary powers of adhesion have been eroded as well, his presence at the crease has a duel effect of slowing momentum and inviting hope of an imminent breakthrough. His old ally Tendulkar believes it is merely a blip, but with his 36th birthday approaching, and almost three years having passed since his last great contribution, in the Caribbean in 2006, Dravid's sands of time are running decidedly low.
Mind you, Dravid may be able to take some comfort from the remarkable resurgence of Andrew Strauss, whose twin scores of 123 and 108 deserved to have set England up for a famous victory in Chennai. Not since his career zenith, his debut season of 2004, has Strauss looked so compact, confident and indomitable at the crease. No longer did he feel the urge to chase the game with rash swishes outside off - instead he left with enervating composure, and demanded that the bowlers come to him in a bid to get him out. Every time they did, he tucked them off the hip for more runs. It was not designed to be pretty, but it was astoundingly effective.
What is to be done with Monty Panesar? He wasn't the only high-profile spinner to perform below expectations at Chennai - Harbhajan Singh was equally anonymous for long periods - but there was a sickening inevitability in the way he was muscled out of the zone in that final fourth innings. As Shane Warne said last week, Monty has basically been playing the same 33 Tests for his entire career, which means the lack of variety in his bowling is common knowledge to all his opponents. Graeme Swann, a fellow fingerspinner, extracted far greater purchase from the wicket throughout the game, and was trusted far more readily by Pietersen in the closing stages.
Team newsDespite Dravid's form worries, India are not expected to dispense with the services of their former captain just yet, which means an unchanged side is likely to take the field in Mohali.
India : (probable) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 VVS Laxman, 6 Yuvraj Singh, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Amit Mishra.
England, on the other hand, have some thinking to do and won't announce their XI until right before the start. The likely return to fitness of Stuart Broad means his inclusion is inevitable, not least to add an extra dimension to the lower-order batting. Who should miss out is a toss-up - Anderson and Harmison both produced curate's egg performances, though Harmison, one suspects, remains the likelier man to star on what is traditionally one of India's bouncier surfaces. Higher up the order, the time is nigh for Ian Bell to be withdrawn from the firing line, temporarily at least. If Owais Shah doesn't play in this Test, he might as well give up on ever adding to his two caps.
England: (possible) 1 Andrew Strauss, 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Owais Shah, 4 Kevin Pietersen (capt), Paul Collingwood, 6 Andrew Flintoff, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 Steve Harmison, 11 Monty Panesar
Pitch and conditions
Having taken over from Mumbai as the venue for the second Test, Mohali might not have envisaged hosting two Test matches in the space of two months but that is unlikely to faze the curator, Daljit Singh, whose pitches are universally recognised as some of the best in the country. He said he had prepared a "result-oriented" pitch and expected to aid reverse-swing. "If all five days of play are possible then an outcome is sure." Daljit said. "After two days some cracks will develop on the pitch, which will benefit spinners. Weather will be the key because the low temperature will make the ball swing and evening fog will make it difficult for batsmen to see the ball."
India certainly enjoyed their last visit, against Australia in October. Batting first they racked up a hefty 469, then went on to bowl the Aussies out for less than 200 on the final day. The monsoon rains that threatened Chennai certainly won't come into play, although there might be the odd dose of winter fog to contend with.
Stats and Trivia
Quotes"The lads are up for it and are raring to go. I thought the day after the Test would be a quiet day but the boys are fine, the boys are really focused now on doing what they can and not focusing on what's happened in the past."
"In no way am I trying to say that this will make everyone forget what happened in Mumbai. But I'd like to thank England for coming back to play Test cricket. We've witnessed a wonderful match. People are again enjoying cricket the way it's meant to be."
India's match-winning centurion, Sachin Tendulkar, reflects on a historic match in Chennai
"Although India takes the plaudits for winning the match, thanks and congratulations are also due to Kevin Pietersen and his team who played so well while under enormous pressure from forces over which they could exert no control. I was very impressed with their attitude and today I can say I am especially proud to be involved in this great game."
The ICC's chief executive, Haroon Lorgat joins in the back-slapping after a memorable contest
Graeme Smith was the last of South Africa's old guard. The roots of the new one need to grow deeper