England eye No. 1 spot against India

England head into the third Test against India at Edgbaston on Wednesday knowing another victory will give them both an unbeatable 3-0 lead in the four-match series and see them replace their opponents at the top of the ICC’s Test Championship table.

Not that Ashes-winning England captain Andrew Strauss is about to abandon the pragmatic approach that has served him so well.

“All we are looking to do is turn up at Edgbaston and try and win that Test match,” he said.

India, beset by injuries, have rarely had their best team on the field and came straight into the series on the back of a tour of the Caribbean with just one practice match in English conditions.

But the fact Indian authorities have not given their side the best chance to succeed in what was billed as one of the showpiece series of the year is hardly England’s fault.

What cannot be denied is Strauss’s men have played some excellent cricket during a 196-run first Test win at Lord’s that was followed by an even more emphatic 319-run success at Trent Bridge.

Their bowlers have prevented the much-vaunted Indian batting line-up, albeit one where dynamic opener Virender Sehwag has only just joined the squad following shoulder surgery, from once getting to 300 in four innings.

Meanwhile England’s batting depth has proved too much for an India attack where left-arm quick Zaheer Khan’s series came to an end midway through his 14th over at Lord’s.

“It’s a mental thing as well because for some of us it’s been a seven-match Test series with hardly any gap,” admitted India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the wicketkeeper/batsman, who looked close to both physical and mental exhaustion at Trent Bridge.

Medium-pacer Praveen Kumar has done his best to shoulder a heavy workload but with off-spinner Harbhajan Singh breaking down with a series-ending stomach injury at Trent Bridge, recalled England seamer Tim Bresnan made 90 batting at No. 8 before taking a Test-best five for 44 with the ball.

Bresnan was only playing at Trent Bridge because of the hamstring and back problems that also seem set to sideline fast bowler Chris Tremlett from appearing at Edgbaston as well.

Yet the Yorkshireman, a winner in all his eight Tests to date, showed his ruthlessness with the ball by pounding Yuvraj Singh on the gloves with a succession of short deliveries on the fourth and last day at Trent Bridge before Bresnan had him caught by a specially set close-in fielder.

Yuvraj was subsequently ruled out of the rest of the series with a broken finger.

India have called up spinner Pragyan Ojha and batsman Virat Kohli as cover for Harbhajan and Yuvraj respectively while RP Singh, a like-for-like replacement, recently joined the squad in Zaheer’s absence.

Few England fans at Edgbaston, would begrudge seeing India great Sachin Tendulkar become the first batsman to score 100 international hundreds.

Tendulkar’s already stellar reputation, and indeed that of the India team as a whole, may well have gone up a few notches after it emerged he played a key role in helping persuade his side to withdraw their second Test run-out appeal against Ian Bell when the batsman mistakenly assumed the ball was dead.

Bell returns to his Warwickshire home ground in the form of his life, having made a sublime 159 after being promoted to No. 3 following the shoulder injury that has ruled county colleague Jonathan Trott out of third Test.

Trott’s injury has paved the way for a Test return for Ravi Bopara, the man whose lack of form against Australia two years ago cleared a path for his South Africa-born rival to score a hundred on debut in the 2009 Ashes finale.

England, under coach Andy Flower, have stuck to a policy of playing six specialist batsmen.

That means Bopara and Eoin Morgan could both yet play at Edgbaston despite the all-round form of Bresnan and fellow seamer Stuart Broad, who took a hat-trick at Trent Bridge as well as scoring valuable runs.

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