Sujith Krishnan gives us his England vs India series preview in what threatens to be one of the most mouth-watering contests in years.
Just a couple of seasons ago, many people were talking about the demise of test cricket at the hands of Twenty20 cricket. But form is temporary, class is permanent couldn’t be more true in this case. Test cricket may have gone through a lull but in the last few seasons, it has been intriguing, competitive and of the highest quality. The prospect of England and India going at it is a mouthwatering one. The immense hype surrounding this series is warranted by the rich vein of form both find themselves in.
Home advantage is massive in Test Cricket and England will make the best use of their home conditions. Since mid 2009, they have triumphed in seven series and drawn just one – an obvious indication of a settled team, high on confidence and not used to losing. In the bowling department, they will rely on the new ball combination of Tremlett and Anderson to make the breakthroughs at the top of the order. Tremlett has been a revelation since coming back into the side and if he can use his towering frame to good effect, extracting maximum bounce and pace to cause problems for the opposition. The chin music from Tremlett and the swing of Anderson in favourable conditions has the ability to trouble even the best. In Graeme Swann, England have an indisputable wicket-taker with a phenomenal record and habit of delivering in crunch situations.
England’s batting has never looked more settled with the likes of Strauss, Cook, Trott, Bell and the flamboyant yet enigmatic Pietersen. Cook, Trott and Bell are three batters who not only have the right temperament to endure marathon innings but have been in remarkable form in recent times. Case in point: Trott’s average is in the 60s after 21 tests, second only to Bradman!
Meanwhile, India have been in sparkling form themselves having started to be compared to the all-conquering West Indian team of the 70’s and 80’s and the invincible Australian team of the 90’s and early 2000’s. They have not lost a series in the last three years and are rightly #1 in the world.
Zaheer and Ishant are a fine opening bowling combination capable of going through teams. And English conditions should also suit the likes of Praveen Kumar if he starts. The battle between Zaheer and Strauss is hotting up despite the Indian bowler getting the better of the England captain in the past. Strauss was untroubled by Zaheer in the warm up game for Somerset as he piled on the runs. But as we all know, in no way does a warm-up match set the tone for a series.
India’s strength has always been its batting and they will miss one of their mainstays, Sehwag, at least for the first two tests. This is one area the English would like to exploit. Sehwag’s absence is a killer blow to the team as he can destroy the confidence of the opposition with his ability to score at lightning pace. The strength in the Indian batting line up speaks for itself. The likes of Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman should be able to draw on their experience to cope with the pace, bounce and conditions. Dravid’s record in England is incredible and Laxman is arguably one of the best fourth innings batsmen in the game. As for the little master, he has looked so relaxed in recent times and should come good.
Dhoni has a big decision to make in regards to Yuvraj and Raina. I hope he goes for the latter as Raina has shown that he does possess the character and resolve to succeed at this level. Yuvraj may be a brilliant cricketer in the ODI and Twenty20 formats, but he hasn’t quite adapted to test cricket, which is a whole different ball game. Dhoni might be a great captain but will need to make significant contributions with the bat like his opposite number Prior (averages 43 in tests compared with Dhoni’s 39) has in recent times.
Added attractions come in the form of the 2000th test in history being played at the home of cricket and the prospect that the Little Master could break the record for 100 hundreds in the same game. Analysis of both sides would say honours should be pretty even. It is likely to boil down to which side is mentally stronger at crucial junctures in the series. Hype and records aside, this one is going to be an enthralling series!
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