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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 February 2006, 11:20 GMT
Jonathan Agnew column
Jonathan Agnew
By Jonathan Agnew
BBC cricket correspondent

Even with a full strength team, England would have found this opening Test in India a tough ordeal.

Andrew Flintoff
Andrew Flintoff must inspire something truly remarkable from his players - if anyone is capable of doing that, it is Freddie
Now, reduced to a third choice captain, an opening batsman who has just flown halfway round the world and a spin attack with just three caps between them, they need a miracle.

Every aspect of the playing conditions are stacked in India's favour - even to the deliberate heavy watering of the outfield which, incidentally, is the only splash of green in an otherwise arid and dusty city.

This has been done to reduce the chances of England's seamers finding reverse swing, while the grassless, dry pitch will take spin from the start.

The heat is savage - Nagpur recently had its hottest February day for more than a century - and the forecast for the next week is for temperatures nudging the hundred mark.

So, against this backdrop Andrew Flintoff must inspire something truly remarkable from his players.

If anyone is capable of doing that, it is Freddie, but England fans will be hoping that it does not come at the heavy price of affecting his own game.

Monte Panesar
Panesar looks to me to be the most likely spinner to win a Test for England
England's management could have gone for an easy option, and chosen Andrew Strauss instead, but they see in Flintoff the ability to lift sagging morale as well as the tactical acumen required in a Test match here.

This involves rather more than simply rotating four fast bowlers, and Flintoff's greatest challenge will probably come when he turns to his inexperienced spinners.

England seem likely to select two from Ian Blackwell, Shaun Udal and Monty Panesar.

Udal - the only one to have played Test cricket - is a hardened county professional and that might very well count in his favour.

Should India choose two of their left-arm quicks, they will also kick up some rough for Udal to aim at outside the right handers' off stump. I hope that England go for Panesar as the second option.

They will have covered the batting option by choosing Udal - or Blackwell for that matter - but Panesar is an absolute natural.

While his fielding and catching still leave a lot to be desired, he looks to me to be the most likely spinner to win a Test for England.

India's batting line up is formidable and in their spinners, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble, they will reckon to have enough to win the game.

The only area of uncertainty in the Indian camp is the pace attack, but they will be used as little more than shine removers.


WATCH AND LISTEN
Report: BBC News' Joe Wilson


Report: BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew



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