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India may make a couple of changes

S. Dinakar

Gautan Gambhir will possibly be replaced at No. 3; Ramesh Powar likely to get a look-in

— PHOTO: AP

AN OPPORTUNITY: Ramesh Powar, hitherto under-rated and uncelebrated, apart from adding variety to the attack, could also use the footmarks created by the left-arm pacemen Zaheer Khan and Rudra Pratap Singh to telling effect.

Bristol: Batting legend Sunil Gavaskar once said “the Indians generally play better when they have the sun behind their backs.”

Bristol is a sunny city. The forecast for Friday rules out rain and clouds but the Indians need more than the right weather to get their cricket right. Things went horribly wrong for Rahul Dravid’s men at the Rose Bowl.

There are now a few concerns on the fitness front as well ahead of Friday’s day/night ODI clash, the second game of the seven-match NatWest series.

Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan, Rudra Pratap Singh, Yuvraj Singh and Ajit Agarkar did not attend the pre-match practice session on Thursday due to what the media manager, Rajiv Shukla, described as “slight fever and body pain.”

Mr. Shukla was, however, confident that these cricketers would recover in time. India, even with a full strength side, has a job on hands at the elegant Gloucester County ground. The venue is steeped in history, with greats, from W.G. Grace, who bought the place in 1889, to the smooth stroking Zaheer Abbas, parading their skills here.

Back to the present. Good, clean batting by Alastair Cook and Ian Bell provided England with runs to put India under pressure on Tuesday and the visitor crumbled. As England stepped on the accelerator, India missed a fifth bowler.

Going in with only four specialist bowlers on one of the smaller grounds is a risk, particularly when Agarkar’s bowling is streaked with inconsistency, when young leg-spinner Piyush Chawla lacks in experience.

Batsman-friendly strip

The surface has a smattering of grass but is generally considered good for batting. Accomplished former England paceman Angus Fraser said while the pitch offered sluggish seam movement for the pacemen in the county games, there had been more bounce and carry for the fast bowlers during the last international game played here between England and Australia in 2005 which the host won by three wickets.

Interestingly, India has a hundred percent record at this ground, defeating Kenya, in the 1999 World Cup, and Sri Lanka, in 2002. Tendulkar made hundreds in both games.

At first sight, the pitch appears a touch dry, which could bring the spinners into the picture. Monty Panesar could be a threat.

India is contemplating two changes: getting an in-form batsman at No. 3 — Gautam Gambhir has been disappointing in this slot — and picking an extra bowler in Ramesh Powar.

Dinesh Karthik opened with success in the Test series and was the best Indian batsman on view in the first ODI. Karthik ran out of overs and partners and the team-management could well try him out at the No. 3 slot here. He has the heart, more than a few shots and the confidence of runs behind him.

At the Rose Bowl, Agarkar was taken apart in his second spell, Chawla proved expensive, and the fifth bowling option of Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh leaked runs.

Off-spinner Ramesh Powar, under-rated and uncelebrated, is slated to receive a look-in. An off-spinner, apart from adding variety to the attack, could also use, even in the abbreviated form of the game, the footmarks created by left-arm pacemen Zaheer Khan and Rudra Pratap Singh.

Two spinners?

The advent of the Power Play overs three blocks of them have made it hard for the skippers to manage overs with two spinners in the side. But then, Powar and Chawla, bowling in tandem, could trouble the Englishmen.

Munaf Patel is the other option. Much would depend on how much he convinces the team-management about his recovery, mentally and physically, from a back injury.

Of course, if the think-tank decides against playing five bowlers, Robin Uthappa (another alternative at No. 3) and Powar might come in for Gambhir and Chawla.

England has fewer worries, even if left-arm paceman Ryan Sidebottom has been ruled out of the next two ODIs as well because of a side strain. Young paceman Stuart Broad, who will move from Leicestershire to Lancashire next season, said the side’s confidence levels were high.

Alastair Cook, one of the English heroes at the Rose Bowl, said the side would strive to win consistently to progress to the next level.

The clash at Bristol could hold the key to the series.

The teams: India (from): Rahul Dravid (captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Robin Uthappa, Dinesh Karthik, Yuvraj Singh, M.S. Dhoni, Ajit Agarkar, Ramesh Powar, Zaheer Khan, R.P. Singh, Piyush Chawla, Rohit Sharma, Munaf Patel.< /i>

England (from): Paul Collingwood (captain), Alistair Cook, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff, Ravi Bopara, Matthew Prior, Dimitri Mascarenhas, Monty Panesar, James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Tremlett, Owais Shah.

Umpires: Billy Doctrove & Ian Gould. Third umpire: Nigel Llong. Match referee: Roshan Mahanama.

Scheduled start: 7 p.m. IST.

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