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Once again, stung by the tail

It's often said that successful cricket teams need a bulldog spirit but India's problem has always been the doberman strategy: They've been unable to snip off the opposition's tail. In Antigua last year West Indies' No.10 and Jack hung on gamely to draw the first Test; a few weeks earlier at Nagpur, England's lower order frustrated them; in March 2005, Pakistan held on for a fighting draw at Mohali and India were a few wickets away from clinching the Sydney Test in 2004, a win which would have soured Steve Waugh's grand farewell party.

And it's now happened at Hove, where Sussex's tail thwarted them in the twilight and hung on grimly for a draw. Admittedly this wasn't their first-choice bowling line-up - Zaheer Khan's presence might have produced a win - and they were up against the county champions, a side who would no doubt have faced similar challenges in the past. Also, India's bowling line-up was expected to be the weaker suit, what with half their attack totalling 14 Tests between them, and this was after all the first four-day game of the tour.

The failure to finish off games has dogged them for years, however, and it's high time something was done about it. Wasim Akram once said the best way to bowl to tailenders is either scare them with short balls or scare them with yorkers. Anil Kumble's fast, spearing yorkers used to do the trick in the '90s, at home at least, but that delivery seems to have gone into extinction since his shoulder operation in 2001.

Sreesanth doesn't possess a lethal yorker or a menacing bouncer - though he can be good with the in-between length - and RP Singh's strength is conventional swing, and not reverse. Ranadeb Bose and Ishant Sharma don't come with any devastating weapons and Ramesh Powar, if at all he gets a game, is someone who relies more on prising out wickets with flight and drift.

That leaves Zaheer, who can summon the deadly yorker, and helped Worcestershire clinch several matches last season. He's the most experienced of the faster men and it's on him that the burden of actually sealing a match will fall.

He's expected to play against England A at Chelmsford, as is Sharma instead of Bose, and it will provide a hint of what to expect in the first Test at Lord's. Zaheer needs to get the early wickets, no doubt about it, but it's his ability to nail the tail that will be more vital.

India's batting seemed in fine health on the first two days until cracks started appearing on the fourth. Wasim Jaffer failed in both the innings and, though that can happen to any batsman, the worrying part was the manner of his dismissals. He was late in getting forward both times - as he has done in the past - and perished as a result. Gautam Gambhir grabbed the opportunity with a solid half-century in the first innings and, coupled with Jaffer's failure, raised the question of whether he would be sent out to open with Dinesh Karthik at Lord's.

The other question involved the No 7 position, for which the competition appears to be between Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Dhoni failed twice and Yuvraj didn't convert the starts he got. But if Dhoni fails in the next tour game as well and even if Yuvraj scores, will India saddle Karthik with both opening and keeping? The next tour game should settle the opening and the No 7 spots.

Yet India will take comfort from the fact that they've already managed more practice than West Indies, the tourists in the first half of the summer. The men from the Caribbean went into the first Test at Lord's with just 48.4 overs of batting practice and rain even ruined their out-door training sessions.

India are expected to play their first choice XI in the three-day game at Chelmsford - Sharma is expected to play and it could eventually be a toss up between him and Bose for Lord's - and it's their last chance to get all the bearings in place.