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Updated: July 28, 2011 23:59 IST

Now is the time for India's magic

S. Ram Mahesh
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While Trent Bridge has been a happy hunting ground for India’s bowlers, the team will be looking to its batsmen to up the ante, especially Sachin Tendulkar to baulk England’s pace attack.
While Trent Bridge has been a happy hunting ground for India’s bowlers, the team will be looking to its batsmen to up the ante, especially Sachin Tendulkar to baulk England’s pace attack.

India, on the eve of the second Test, finds itself in the position of the escape artiste, who, having entered a strongbox blindfolded, handcuffed, and straitjacketed, faces the moment of truth.

He's done it before, he's aware of what needs to be done, but can he do it again?

Thus far everything has gone to script for India (although it's not a script it willingly writes). It has started slowly, but now is the time for magic. The defining characteristic of India in its rise to No.1 and its subsequent stay there has been its ability to rebound.

Where West Indies and Australia were great front-runners, quick to establish their dominance and desperate to maintain it, India has been a great come-back team.

Not surprisingly — albeit a little too neatly — one's strength is the other's blind spot. West Indies and Australia were vulnerable when forced back (although it was a rare team that could manage this); India is uncertain when invited to dictate from the outset.

So, and not to put too fine a point on it, this is India's time.

Arresting momentum

Over the next five days (or fewer) at Trent Bridge, M.S. Dhoni's men have the task of arresting the momentum of a strong, cohesive English side, and turning it their way.

There's already a minor hurdle: Andrew Strauss, unlike some of India's other opposing captains, is aware of India's natural humours. Where Mahela Jayawardene spoke of asking more of the same questions, and changing them if India found the answers, and Graeme Smith wondered aloud if Durban's quick wicket would end the series, Strauss has been studiously inward-looking. Lord's is behind us, is his message.

But India will have happy memories of Trent Bridge, where it secured the series-winning Test victory in 2007. It's a warm, welcoming ground, with its modern orange-brick clubhouse and its quaint chimney-roofed pavilions with their hanging pots of violets, but what India will enjoy the most is its reputation for swing.

The theory is that the construction of the new stands on either side of the ground has created a microclimate that brings swing. It's as plausible a theory of swing as any — up there with the turning of the tide and the presence of a water body in close proximity. (The green River Trent flows thickly past, so that's another potential cause).

Whatever the theory, it's observed fact that the ball goes around corners at Trent Bridge. Swing-and-seam merchants have had the most success at this ground.

Zaheer Khan, who took nine wickets, and R.P. Singh, who found himself in sublime rhythm, were brilliant here in 2007, curving it this way and that from both over and around the wicket.

The latter hasn't been part of the set-up for a while now. The former will not play.

Although the temptation would have been to include Zaheer because he lifts the attack immeasurably, it's a big risk to enlist a bowler not fully fit.

In any case, Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma have had little turnaround time after their enervating exertions of the first Test. India will hope that the two have the energy to perform in concert. India must be brave and trust its backup. The choice between Sreesanth and Munaf Patel isn't an easy one. (A left field move would be to play four seamers, but given Dhoni's troubles with India's over-rates it would be perilous on many levels).

Munaf has looked the better bowler in the nets, but he has often fallen short of this form (and fitness) when asked to play Test cricket. He offers Dhoni greater control, however, than Sreesanth, who can be anything from dazzling to exasperating. But it's that X-factor that worries batsmen — even when they're hitting boundaries. It's very unsettling.

India's bowling has often led the renaissance in times such as these, but the batsmen will have to play their parts in quelling a penetrative English attack. Their driving will have to be precise and punitive.

If the touring team is to overturn the 0-1 deficit, the batsmen will have to make this an Indian summer.

The sides (from): England: Andrew Strauss (capt.), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior (wk), Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Chris Tremlett, James Anderson and Tim Bresnan.

India: M.S. Dhoni (capt. & wk), Gautam Gambhir (vice-capt.), Abhinav Mukund, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V.V.S. Laxman, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth, Praveen Kumar, Munaf Patel, Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra and Wriddhiman Saha.

Umpires: Asad Rauf and Marais Erasmus. Third Umpire: Billy Bowden.

Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle.

Hours of play (IST): 3.30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m., 6.10 p.m. to 8.10 p.m., and 8.30 p.m. to close.

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