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Published on: Jul 28, 2011
If Zaheer Khan missing the training session at the Trent Bridge on Wednesday is any indication, then it's more or less certain that India will be without the services of their premier pace bowler in the second Test. And instead of raking over the coals of what went wrong at Lord's or what possibly could have happened had the 32-year-old not pulled his hamstring on the first morning of the Test, it's time to lay down plans and find out the possible replacement for the fast bowler.
History shows that Trent Bridge has been a fast bowler's paradise. Out of top 20 leading wicket-takers at the venue, 17 have been pacers and three leg-spinners. England took on Pakistan in the first Test of their series here last year, and the pitch and the overhead conditions favoured the pacers overwhelmingly. Of the 37 wickets that fell, 33 were taken by seamers.
And with England leading the series 1-0 and the groundsman giving enough indication of a green deck at the venue, India shouldn't mind going in with a four-pronged pace attack instead of their 3-1 combination (three pacers, one spinner). With both S Sreesanth and Munaf Patel capable of extracting the best out of conditions conducive to pace bowling, we may actually see India going in with all four - Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar, Munaf and Sreesanth.
Sreesanth, despite his antics on the field, is an aggressive bowler who is capable of swinging the ball with good pace. And though his record (79 wickets in 24 matches) doesn't really tell the whole story, it's his knack of picking up wickets at crucial junctures that sets him apart from his peers. But the inability of the 28-year-old to control his emotions at times brings about his downfall.
And Trent Bridge is the same place where he lost his cool and bowled what appeared to be a beamer at Kevin Pietersen on India's last tour here.
Munaf, on the other hand, has sacrificed his pace in the last few years to prolong his career and focuses on consistency. He is no longer a bowler who believes in skittling batsmen with rapid pace, but someone who maintains a good line and length for a long period.
But his fitness level has always been under a scanner and playing just one Test over two years is not going to help his cause. However, a fit Munaf can definitely give India an edge under seam-friendly conditions at Trent Bridge.
And thinking about playing with four seamers could well mean dropping the experienced Harbhajan Singh from the lineup. The off-spinner has been in poor form of late, underlined by just three five-fors in the last 27 outings. And his mediocre outing (just one wicket in 56 overs) in the first Test at Lord's doesn't help his cause.
The 31-year-old failed to make any impact on the English batsmen. And though Indian skipper MS Dhoni had a word of praise for Harbhajan after the match, it may not be enough for the spinner to retain his place in the playing eleven. But taking the decision is like biting the bullet, which obviously will test the guts of the team management.
Whatever decision the team think-tank takes, they should not forget that they are trailing the four-match series 1-0. And it will be they who have to take some hard decisions to claw their way back in the series.
And the only possible opportunity they can get to test all their pacers at one go in their over two-month-long England tour could be at Trent Bridge.