England faced a selection dilemma yesterday as they searched for the right combination to force a series-leveling win over India in the final Test.
The tourists were undecided on whether to include batsman Owais Shah for the match starting tomorrow, while the disappointing form of frontline spinner Monty Panesar posed another worry.
England have had little time to recover from India’s stunning six-wicket win in the first Test in Chennai on Monday when Sachin Tendulkar’s 41st century enabled the hosts to achieve the fourth-highest run chase in history.
Left-hander Panesar, expected to be England’s trump card on the final day, failed to take a wicket in the second innings as India reached a seemingly improbable target of 387 with more than 20 overs to spare.
Off-spinner Graeme Swann had a bigger impact, grabbing two wickets in his first over in Test cricket before removing the rampaging Virender Sehwag and Venkatsai Laxman in the second innings.
With fast bowler Stuart Broad fit after missing the Chennai Test with a hamstring injury, England must choose between Swann and Panesar or drop one seamer from Steve Harmison or James Anderson.
England coach Peter Moores appeared to lean on Panesar, saying the 26-year-old who has claimed 117 wickets in 34 Tests was still developing as a world-class spinner.
“If you look at Monty’s record in Test match cricket it compares very favorably to a lot of spinners who have started out and he is still very young in the game,” Moores said.
“I don’t think it was as easy in Chennai as the pitch looked, otherwise India’s Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra would have run riot and they did not,” he said. “I have sympathy for Monty, who probably has not had a competitive game for four months.”
“As you go through your overs you get into a rhythm, so that’s quite challenging for someone who is suddenly charged with the job of bowling out an Indian team that is playing very good cricket,” Moores said.
Shah, who hit three half-centuries during his team’s 5-0 loss to India in last month’s one-day series, returns to contention after Ian Bell managed only 17 and seven in Chennai.
Moores admitted the team management faced a tough choice over the next two days as it mulled over a suitable batting order.
“It was probably one of the toughest decisions to not pick Shah in Chennai because he played beautifully in the one-day series,” Moores said. “But we have also got very good players in the Test team. You have to make a decision on what you think is the best team for England at any given time.”
“You are loyal to your players when you think it’s right to be loyal and when you think it’s right to give someone else a chance, you do that,” he said.
Shah played the last of his two Tests against the West Indies at Lord’s in May last year but has been a regular member of the one-day team.