India v England, 3rd Test, Mumbai

The momentum is with India

The preview by S Rajesh in Mumbai

March 17, 2006

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Rahul Dravid will look to make his 100th Test a memorable one © Getty Images
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Over the next five days, India could either completely knock down a groggy England, or we could witness a stirring fightback from a proud side whose mantra over the last couple of years has been team spirit and kinship. Most of the evidence points towards the former, but only a foolishly complacent team - and Rahul Dravid's team surely isn't one - will assume the contest is over before it has even begun.

Riding the momentum
There is little doubt about who the force is with at the moment. The tide turned when a match which looked headed for a dull draw at Mohali ended up going India's way quite emphatically. Even more hearteningly, the architects of the triumph weren't only the spinners; Munaf Patel, with his vicious reverse-swing and more-than-brisk pace, left England doubting their ability to play fast bowling as well. England's fastest bowler has since been ruled out too, with a final decision on Steve Harmison's further participation on this tour to be taken over the next week. The outlook doesn't look rosy for the England supporter.

The pitch factor
After the debacle of November 2004, when 40 wickets cascaded in a little over two days, it is unlikely that the strip at the Wankhede will again be such a minefield. Then, India had already lost two matches, and needed something to salvage a horrible series. Here, they're already one-up, and need nothing more than a draw. A minefield could backfire badly against the home team.

Sudhir Naik, the curator, has promised a firm strip, with pace and bounce early on and then assistance for the spinners. That's what most curators say about most pitches before most Tests, but this one might live up to that promise - on the eve of the match, there is still a sprinkling of grass, and the high red-clay content here ensures reasonable bounce too.

A question of composition
Four bowlers or five? That's the question Dravid and the think-tank will have to find an answer to later this evening. Piyush Chawla seems certain to be omitted; the choice for his replacement is a toss-up between Sreesanth and VVS Laxman. Both had impressive spells in the nets this morning - Sreesanth worked up sharp pace, as he had yesterday, and troubled both Yuvraj Singh and Dravid, while Laxman had a long hit and looked largely untroubled. The temptation is to play safe and include an extra batsman, but the heat in Mumbai and the pitch will also play a huge role in the final decision. Dravid, as usual, gave nothing away in the press conference: "We will do whatever we feel is needed to take 20 wickets . [Playing] four bowlers shouldn't be interpreted as a defensive move, while five bowlers doesn't indicate an over-aggressive move."

England's biggest headache is finding a replacement who will be at least half as penetrative as Harmison. Should it be Liam Plunkett, who played at Mohali and did nothing to worry the Indians, or Ian Blackwell, classified as a left-arm spinner but for whom left-arm innocuous might be more apt, or James Anderson, a swing bowler who hasn't proved his mettle in subcontinental conditions, or Shaun Udal, the third spin option? Two out of those four will certainly play, for Duncan Fletcher categorically stated that the final XI will include five bowlers, but regardless of who makes the cut, the Indians will be licking their lips in anticipation of easy runs.

The Milestone Men
It's Test No.100 for Rahul Dravid, but quite typically, he was quick to deflect the attention from his achievement, choosing phrases like "just another game", "I'm preparing for it no differently than I would for any other match", "we still have to do the basics well and focus on winning". Throughout his career, Dravid's single-minded focus and determination have been his hallmark, and you can be certain whatever be the occasion, he'll bring all of that to the crease when the first Indian wicket falls.

There's another landmark too, for a cricketer Dravid described as an icon for Indian cricket. Sachin Tendulkar goes past Kapil Dev's record of 131 matches to become the most capped Indian Test cricketer. Expect the decibel levels to reach frightening proportions when he walks out to bat for his eighth Test at his homeground.

India (likely) 1 Wasim Jaffer, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Rahul Dravid (capt), 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 VVS Laxman, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 Anil Kumble, 10 Harbhajan Singh, 11 Munaf Patel.

England (likely) 1 Alastair Cook, 2 Andrew Strauss, 3 Ian Bell, 4 Paul Collingwood, 5 Kevin Pietersen, 6 Andrew Flintoff (capt), 7 Geraint Jones (wk), 8 Shaun Udal, 9 Liam Plunkett, 10 Matthew Hoggard, 11 Monty Panesar.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.
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