If there was ever a tougher test of England’s ambitions to become the number one side in the world it is the current number one side, India. They boast arguably the strongest batting line up of all time; Sehwag, Laxman, Dhoni, Gambhir, Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and not forgetting the greatest batsman of all time, the little master, Sachin Tendulkar.
So, realistically, do England have a chance of winning? Yes, but only if they bowl excellently; like they did down under, during the winter, and not in spells like they have during Sri Lanka’s tour of England this summer. The opening bowling partnership of Tremlett and Anderson should be maintained with Broad as the third paceman. The combination of Tremlett’s extreme bounce and accuracy and Anderson’s ability to swing the ball both ways could unsettle the rhythm of the Indian batsmen who are not used to the extremes of English conditions. Then there is Graeme Swann, the world’s highest ranked bowler, who bamboozles the opposition on pitches which most spinners wouldn’t take a single wicket to their name.
There has been much discussion regarding the fourth bowler; I think the selectors will stick with Broad, who has been dreadfully lacking form through this injury plagued year, but I think the shock of being dropped from the one day side will have forced him to work hard to regain his form and fitness. He is too important a member of this side to be left out for an extended period of time when he is fit.
A good start for both batting sides will be essential and it will be interesting whether Sehwag will be at his explosive best once he returns from his shoulder surgery. A baptism of fire is expected for Mukund, the young and inexperienced opener, who will be Sehwag’s replacement for at least the first test. He will be battling to try and force his way into an extremely talented batting line up, but whether he will measure up on green pitches with a swinging ball is another matter entirely. I expect Tremlett to test the youngster with a few short deliveries early on at Lord’s later this week.
One of the key battles of the series will be between Andrew Strauss and Zaheer Khan. Zaheer Khan had the better of Strauss at the World Cup and it will be fascinating to discover whether England’s captain has fixed his weakness against left arm swing bowlers. Zaheer Khan was noticeably absent from India’s warm up game against Somerset, where Strauss made 78 and an unbeaten 109. The leader of India’s bowling attack will be England’s main threat. His devastating use of swing was particularly vital in India’s World Cup winning campaign and he will have to have a good series if India are to win. The remaining Indian bowling attack is good if not spectacular, Munaf Patel is the perfect example. He is an excellent one day bowler, but has yet to provide the variation for test bowling. He will be the top target for the English batsmen.
The spinners may prove to bowl a large number of overs during this series. Swann will be key to England’s chances and he will no doubt be expected to tie up one end, while the quicks take advantage at the other end; however, the Indians have a number of players who are excellent at playing spin and he will probably go for a few more runs than he would usually be accustomed, but I suspect this series as a whole will be a very high scoring affair – as both teams are capable of batting the other out of the game completely. The Indian spinners are good and tidy bowlers with excellent variation, but are all used to bowling on the slower pitches of the sub-continent. If they fail to adapt they will be slaughtered by Eoin Morgan, who is a particularly merciless player of spin.
The first match in the series has added interest with regards to Sachin Tendulkar, as this series will be his final chance to have his name on the Lord’s honours board. The script has been set perfectly, as this would allow him to reach the seemingly insurmountable record of a hundred hundreds at international level. This would almost certainly be his swansong allowing him to comfortably retire at the end of the series having achieved everything in international cricket.
The first test at Lord’s will be crucial for England in particular as they have to prove themselves to be worthy contenders for the crown, on a pitch which is full of runs. If they fail to get it right first up at Lord’s, particularly the bowling, then they could quickly find themselves out of the game as India’s batting line up pile on the runs. If they get it right, it could signal the start of a new and successful era in English cricket.