England’s first warmup of the tour of India starts tonight (for me, in the early hours of the morning for those in the UK). A warmup match is not indicative of how the series as a whole will go, of course, one can just look at the start of England’s tour of the UAE last January. But with all the upheaval in the England team lately this first warmup still has a lot of interesting aspects and will also start to answer some questions about team selection.
As has been kicked about some in the press, England will not be facing a specialist spinner. But the India A side they face is overall a quite strong one and I am actually more interested to see how the bowlers fare. Especially of interest is how effective or otherwise Samit Patel looks. He seems to be the incumbent as a fifth bowler/sixth batsman, but as I’ve said before I don’t particularly rate him as either and I don’t think he should play unless he can so one or the other well. If England are dead set in playing a second spinner (though as I’ve said already, they shouldn’t be) then Patel should need to outperform Monty Panesar to fill that role, regardless of his batting. I would actually prefer to compare him to Graham Onions and Tim Bresnan, however. Of course there are three warmups and we don’t yet know who will play in this first one, but I expect we will start to get some indication.
With Kevin Pietersen having returned to the England squad we might also start to get a look at how well his reintegration is going. Most of the players have made positive statements to the press, but that is to be expected and it will be interesting to see if there is any telling body language. Pietersen himself could also do with some runs just to make a point upon his return. I doubt much if anything will be said if he gets a duck, and certainly it shouldn’t, but all the same a solid score will be of use to underline his return.
And we will also get to see in these first warmups how Alastair Cook fares on the field as captain in a red ball format. He has captained before, of course, when Strauss was rested from the tour of Bangladesh in early 2010, but since then Cook has taken the ODI captaincy and had more time in the Test vice-captaincy. This is also a ‘fresh start’, unlike temporarily taking the reins in Bangladesh so I am eager to see what attitude and tactics he will bring to the captaincy long-term.