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Cricket | International

Finn, Sharma to miss first test



India and England will be without the services of fast bowlers Ishant Sharma and Steven Finn when they open a four-test series in Ahmedabad on Thursday.

Finn has not recovered from a thigh strain suffered in England's three-day tour opener in Mumbai last month, while Sharma was ruled out of the first test due to viral fever he picked up on Tuesday.

The duo's absence was confirmed by rival captains Alastair Cook and Mahendra Singh Dhoni at a pre-match press conference on Wednesday, even as speculation mounted over the likely nature of the newly-laid pitch.

Both Dhoni and Cook expected the dry surface at the Motera stadium to assist spin, but added its unknown quality would generate considerable interest for the two teams.

"Wickets could change a lot in 24 hours, but it looks quite dry," said Cook. "The pitch has been re-laid and so there are not many statistics available that are relevant to the wicket."

Dhoni, who had openly called on groundsmen across India to prepare turning pitches against spin-wary tourists, termed it a "good wicket".

"It definitely looks dry and I feel it will turn," he said, but indicated India were unlikely to field a third specialist spinner in Harbhajan Singh to bowl alongside Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha.

"The fast bowlers could also get a bit of reverse swing. It's always advisable to have a bowling attack that has people available for different scenarios."

England have proved vulnerable against the turning ball this year, losing 3-0 to Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in January-February before forcing a 1-1 draw in Sri Lanka in March.

The tourists now confront an Indian side that usually makes up for its poor record abroad by dominating all comers on home soil, where it has lost just one series out of 16 in the past 10 years.

India are desperate to make amends for two successive 4-0 routs in England and Australia over the past year, but Dhoni refused to term the upcoming matches as a grudge series.

"When we go on to the field there will be a red ball and there will be two teams playing," he said. "You can name it whatever you want but it does not change the fact that this is another test match.

"In your own country you are supposed to be good. But when you play abroad it's a fresh challenge. Every country feels the same. It's no different for England."

Cook said he was "nervous and excited" leading England as a fulltime test captain since taking over from Andrew Strauss, who retired after the 2-0 loss to South Africa at home in August.

"Whatever happens over the next test match, I hope do a good job in the long run," said the left-handed opener, who turns 28 on Christmas Day. "I hope to get good results."

Cook was confident of taking on India in their own backyard, saying his team gained valuable practice in the three warm-up games prior to the test.

"History shows that India has coped well with pressure which comes with playing at home," he said. "They have an excellent home record, but our job is to put them under pressure now."

Cook said the return of Kevin Pietersen to the England squad after he was banned in August for a text message row will lift the tourists.

"For a captain it is great to have a world-class batsman like him in the team," Cook said. "We have moved on and the whole side has adapted to the situation.

"What I don't want to change is his confidence, or his swagger when he bats, because that's what has made him such a great player."

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