x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

India and Harbhajan Singh need to come out fighting at Trent Bridge

After scathing criticism following India's defeat at Lord's, the tourists must show their mettle in the second Test in Nottingham.

Harbhajan Singh, who had figures of one for 218 at Lord's, often produces his best form when his valued to the team is questioned by critics, something India hope he will show during the second Test, which starts today.
Harbhajan Singh, who had figures of one for 218 at Lord's, often produces his best form when his valued to the team is questioned by critics, something India hope he will show during the second Test, which starts today.

Lord's can bring the best out of some teams. Australia never lost there between 1934 and 2009. South Africa have won three of their last five games at the London ground. For India, however, the sight of the famous Honours Board and the Long Room appears to have the same effect that a cross had on Count Dracula.

The crushing first Test defeat earlier this week was their 11th in 16 visits to Lord's. Save for a five-wicket win in 1986, when Kapil Dev's side won the series against an English team intent on playing musical chairs with the captaincy, eight decades of pilgrimage have seen nothing but woe.

The reaction to the Lord's performance, both back home and in England, has been scathing. Everything from the team's preparation to their professionalism has been questioned. Without Zaheer Khan and possibly Gautam Gambhir for the Trent Bridge Test, India are suddenly in the position of an old nag trying to run a Group 1 race.

This, though, is a team ranked No 1 in the world in Tests. We may not be able to make sense of a ranking system where you can lose points for winning a series, but teams do not stay at the top of the tree for 18 months by accident.

Having failed to show their quality at Lord's, a team that has not lost a series since Sri Lanka in 2008 must now lift themselves at a venue in Nottingham where England have won five of their last seven Tests.

One of those defeats was against India four years ago, with Zaheer's nine for 134 leading the way. Without him, India cannot afford any inconsistency from the pace attack on a surface that traditionally helps them. Praveen Kumar took five wickets in the first innings at Lord's, swinging the ball cleverly at gentle pace, but Ishant Sharma's 0-128 played a big part in England's huge total.

Sreesanth, who has nine wickets from his three Tests in England, will come in for Zaheer. In theory, he is the perfect bowler for English conditions, a man with a lovely action and wrist position who moves the ball away from the right-hander at a lively pace.

When he is aiming for the top of an imaginary fourth stump - as Greg Chappell used to tell him to do during his "Good Sree" days - he can be unplayable.

But when his mind wanders and he starts to run in trying to imitate Malcolm Marshall and various others, he becomes a liability.

India's hopes of finding a way back into the series could well rest on which Sreesanth turns up, as well as how rapidly Ishant and Praveen have recovered from the strain of bowling 114.3 overs at Lord's.

The prime scapegoat after the Lord's debacle has been Harbhajan Singh. He did bowl poorly for the most part, as figures of one for 218 testify. But in keeping with his combative nature, Harbhajan tends to be at his best when his value to the side is questioned. He was similarly ineffectual at Centurion last December, when South Africa won by an innings and 25 runs, but he was a man transformed at supposedly seam-friendly Durban, matching Zaheer's six wickets as India romped home inside four days.

Despite its reputation as a pace bowlers' ground, Trent Bridge does offer something for the canny slow bowler. When Sri Lanka upset England five years ago, Muttiah Muralitharan took eight in the second innings. After a week of hearing how he's not fit to lace Graeme Swann's shoelaces, Harbhajan will not need any extra incentive.

India's chances will also rest of how astutely they reconstitute the batting order if Gambhir is ruled out. Rahul Dravid has to open with Abhinav Mukund as he did in the second innings at Lord's. Promoting VVS Laxman to No 3 gives them a fluent shot-making option, but it also leaves the five and six positions in the hands of Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, neither of whom has an intimidatory Test record.

Yuvraj could be a handy pick, though, not just for his left-arm spin. For nearly a decade, people have hinted that he doesn't have what it takes for the five-day game. Three months on from being the player of the tournament at the World Cup, he will be especially eager to prove them wrong.


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