Legendary Australian captain once called India ‘the final frontier’, in terms of successes his team had yet to achieve. They never quite achieved it. Neither did the all-conquering Test team of Ricky Ponting. England, despite a brilliant run since 2009 being No.1 in the world until this summer, have not won a series in India since 1984, and the subcontinent in general holds few happy memories for them; excluding Bangladesh, they haven’t won a series there since 2001.
Last winter they were spectacularly dismantled in the UAE by Pakistan, with their batsmen apparently clueless about how to play the array of spinners facing them. Now they come to the birthplace and spiritual home of spin bowling to take on an opponent that simply doesn’t lose Test series at home. To make the prospect even more daunting, England do not approach the series as an altogether settled unit.
Kevin Pietersen has yet to play with the side again after his acrimonious dispute with the team that was only ended last month. Alistair Cook is an inexperienced captain, yet to lead the side in a Test. The departure of Andrew Strauss has not only shorn England of a brilliant leader and captain to have around, he would have been a vital player to have in India, being as he was one of England’s most experienced batsmen. The job of opening (never easy at the best of times) will fall to a man making his debut for England, either young Joe Root, or (more likely) the Somerset batsman Nick Compton.
The bowling will also be depleted, with Steven Finn looking likely to miss the first test with a thigh strain. Stuart Broad is also a doubt with a bruised heel, and neither have bowled much in the practice nets. This means that England could go into the first test without their two highest wicket-takers for the year, and with Graeme Swann only recently arrived from England (where he was taking care of his ill daughter), it’s not exactly ideal preparation.
However, there are plenty of positives for England. Now that Pietersen is back they have one of the most destructive and commanding batsmen in the world at their disposal. Cook is also in excellent form, and has experience in the subcontinent, while Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott have shown in the past they can play spin adeptly. In the bowling department, England’s pace attack is as strong as anyone’s, with Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad two of the highest ranked bowlers in the world, and Graeme Swann canny and potentially devastating.
India too are inexperienced, having lost three massive players in the last few years, and with Sehwag and Tendulkar not what they once were. Their pace attack certainly doesn’t have as much firepower as England’s, and could find wickets hard to come by. The series began on Thursday in Ahmedebad, and the locals will no doubt get strongly behind their team. The ball will spin and the conditions will be tricky, but if England want to scale the Test match rankings mountain again, and reach the summit as the number one team in the world, they have to put up a good fight; maybe even win.
Author: Euan Cunningham