India v England, 2nd Test, Mohali March 8, 2006

Who will blink first?

Harbhajan Singh is the one under the cosh © AFP
If you believe Rahul Dravid, the advantage India had when playing at home is vastly reduced these days, the Mohali pitch will have more bounce in it than the one at Nagpur and India have enough flexibility in the squad to field a spin- or pace-heavy attack. What they will do depends on many factors, many of which are not quite characteristically Mohali.

The pitch
When the strip at the PCA stadium was first used in an international game, an ODI against South Africa in 1993, it was the quickest strip in the country. Pace, bounce, lateral movement, it gave you plenty if you were a fast bowler. But since then much has happened, and to expect this pitch to aid the fast men might just be asking too much. At the end of a long season, the pitch looks well worn, and well, full of runs.

And the Oscar goes to ...
There's no spy thriller in the offing here, and there isn't much need for a George Clooney, but England have to turn to their lesser lights to seize the advantage. Although the outfield is lush enough, the nature of the pitch, combined with daytime temperatures rising fast on the back of a hot February, point to the fact that reverse swing could be the most potent weapon. Matthew Hoggard showed how devastating that skill can be, even if it comes just right for a session or two, and the story won't be any different here. This could mean a look-in for Liam Plunkett, while Ian Blackwell exits the stage. So, it might well be the second string, the men who curl the ball out and duck it in, even at a moderate pace, and not the roaring heroes who knock batsmen over with sheer pace and force of personality - the Steve Harmisons and Andrew Flintoff - who take centre stage.

Three yes, but of what?
India have a lot more to think about when it comes to the composition of their attack. Harbhajan Singh has only 16 wickets at over 50 from his last six Tests, four of which have been at home. He has been so completely off the boil that he is likely to sit out a home Test, and India will have to consider giving Piyush Chawla a debut. However, Greg Chappell, Ian Frazer and company put in long hours with Harbhajan, and there is speculation that India might stick to their traditional guns and take a long-odds punt on three spinners. Equally, though, they could base their strategy on reverse swing, and give Irfan Pathan the company of Sreesanth, who is suffering from flu but they are hoping will be fit, and Munaf Patel, a young man with a reputation of being skilled in the art of reversing. And, if they decide to cover their bases and play five bowlers, something the management is keen on doing, then one batsman will miss out.

Out of their comfort zone
Funnily enough, it is India who have plenty of questions to answer regarding team composition, while the England side is well bedded down. To think that this squad is settled - despite missing Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick and Simon Jones - is a testament to manner in which each member of the team has understood his role and played his part. This has meant that the onus of making something happen, forcing the pace and thereby a result, has fallen on India. And this Indian team is desperate enough to win, to shake off the conservative mindset of six batsmen, get out of their comfort zone of two spinners, and go for broke.

Shock and awe
For one hour in Nagpur, India had England running scared. On the final day India, plodding along like a laden mule, got a sharp stirrup in the flank in the form of Irfan Pathan and Sachin Tendulkar, and though the possibility of blitzing along at eight an over for a session was never on the cards, it did give India a peek at what was possible if England were pushed to a corner. Flintoff and Duncan Fletcher have not come close to admitting that their team panicked. Then again, there's no recorded history of Fletcher admitting to any weakness without a gun pointed to his head. This England team holds its nerve like no other in recent history, and are quite happy waiting for the other person to blink. But if the opposition is quick on the draw, and loaded with enough bowling firepower, then it may not be so easy to hold that cold stare.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo