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Dec 18, 2008

England wavering on team for tough India Test

An unpredictable wicket and India's awesome recent form have forced England to delay naming their team for the must-win second Test starting here Friday.

England captain Kevin Pietersen said a final decision on the playing XI would be taken just before the toss as the tourists attempt to level the two-match series.

"The surface is a bit different from the first Test and a little abrasive, so we want to see how it will turn out before deciding who will play," said Pietersen.

India won the first Test in Chennai by six wickets after surpassing a seemingly improbable target of 387 on the final day to achieve the fourth-highest run chase in Test history.

England resume battle at the Punjab Cricket Association ground in the northern town of Mohali, where their predecessors were hammered by 10 wickets in 2001 and suffered a nine-wicket defeat in 2006.

The Indians also inflicted a massive 320-run defeat on world champions Australia at the same ground in October on their way to a 2-0 series win in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

England need to decide if middle-order batsman Owais Shah, who hit three half-centuries in the preceding one-day series, should be brought in for his third Test match in place of Ian Bell.

With fast bowler Stuart Broad fit after missing the Chennai Test with a hamstring injury, England may have to choose between spinners Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, or drop one seamer from Steve Harmison or James Anderson.

Pietersen, himself recovering from a fractured rib suffered while playing squash before the series, said he was not in favour of reshuffling the team after just one defeat.

"We have got to try to win the game and get the victory, that's our sole purpose now," the England captain said.

"I think the boys played brilliantly last week, they played great Test cricket, but we just unfortunately got pipped on the last day.

"I don't see a reason to change much. If a few things had gone our way on the final day we would have won that Test and been 1-0 up.

"It's a bitter pill to swallow but at least we got a lot closer than we thought in really pushing this strong Indian team to the last session of the Test."

Pietersen said England were beaten in Chennai by Sachin Tendulkar's brilliant 103 not out on the final day and Virender Sehwag's blistering 83 off 68 balls on the fourth evening.

"You've got a freak of a bloke (Tendulkar) who bats at number four for India, and a freak who opens the batting (Sehwag)," said Pietersen.

India, meanwhile, are set to play the same team with the struggling Rahul Dravid getting another chance to redeem himself after making just 342 runs in his last 10 Tests.

"We have a lot of faith in Rahul," said captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

"The important thing for him is to get to the 30-run mark, which will give him a lot of confidence. Unfortunately, he is getting out before settling in."

Dravid, who turns 36 next month and is one of only four batsmen after Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting to score 10,000 runs in both Test and one-day cricket, made just three and four in Chennai.

Dhoni said he was undecided on pushing Dravid down the order from number three to release the pressure on the beleaguered batsman.

"It can work both ways," he said. "If (Venkatsai) Laxman goes in at three and gets out early, the pressure will return to Dravid.

"At least he gets a chance to prepare himself mentally at number three, knowing he will go in at the fall of the first wicket."

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