OUT-OF-FORM vice-captain Stuart Broad may face a battle to retain his place as England eye their biggest challenge yet in India.
Pace bowler Broad was passed fit despite suffering a virus on the eve of the second Test, and then appeared well short of his best in a match dominated by spin and famously won by England to level the four-match series at 1-1.
Alastair Cook’s tourists have a realistic ambition again to become the first from England to win a series in India since 1984-85.
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Their next stop is Kolkata on December 5, and with Steven Finn demonstrating his recovery from a thigh strain by taking four wickets for the England Performance Programme in Mumbai, Broad’s inclusion is far from guaranteed.
Bowling coach David Saker today spelled out the magnitude of England’s task, the ‘‘x-factor’’ Finn can bring to the team – and the Broad ‘‘issue’’ which must be confronted.
‘‘To win (a series) over here is as big as any challenge,’’ said Saker, whose two-and-ahalf years so far with England have included an ICC World Twenty20 trophy and a historic Ashes win in his native Australia.
He insists, however, that India is the final frontier.
‘‘Even the great Australia teams came over here, and found it so difficult.
‘‘For any Test team, I think this is the biggest challenge to win over here.
‘‘We’ve set our sights to do it, and hope we can.’’ After Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann accounted for 19 of the 20 India wickets with spin at the Wankhede Stadium, and James Anderson bowled impressively too with scant reward, Broad may struggle to beat Finn to the second seamer’s position at Eden Gardens.
He has taken 40 Test wickets this calendar year, but none for 157 in two matches here.
Saker candidly acknowledged that Broad has a point to prove, and Finn could yet make a compelling case to replace him next week.
He said of the former: ‘‘There’s a little bit of an issue, there’s no doubt about it.
‘‘He hasn’t bowled as we would have liked, and he’d be the first to admit that.
‘‘He’s not the first bowler to come over here and find it hard. The great fast bowlers have had success over here.
‘‘Stuart’s probably not a great yet. He has to learn ways to become great. It’s a learning time for him.’’ Saker will do all he can, as befits his job description, to help.
‘‘During my tenure as bowling coach, I haven’t had too many players down in confidence and form.
‘‘This is when I have to come to the party. I hope I can do some stuff over the next few days that can help.
‘‘It’s my job to make sure we can get him up.’’ Finn would surely have played as part of a three-man pace attack in the first Test in Ahmedabad, if he had not injured himself in England’s opening warm-up match against India A last month.
Saker is wary of assumptions about the tall seamer’s fitness until he has safely negotiated the EPP’s three-day match.
‘‘We’ve got our fingers crossed he gets through, number one,’’ he said.
‘‘He’s got that x-factor, a bit of pace, that height that always means you could get variable bounce over here – so his name will be bandied around for sure.’’