India v England preview

The warmups are over and there are now less than three days before the start of the first Test in Ahmedabad. England will spend a lot of that time assessing the fitness of Steven Finn and Stuart Broad. Both of them barely bowled in the warmups after picking up injuries so even if they are fit it would be a slight risk to have them both in the first Test. That does seem to be England’s plan, however. Luckily for England that is their only real question and the warmups went very well for the batsmen. The top six are set and have all been in the runs although they have not faced much spin of note.

For this series at least, India are fairly settled as well. Over the long term there are question marks over their openers and their pace attack, as well as for how long Sachin Tendulkar will continue playing. But For this series they appear to have established who will play. They look like they will stick with Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir at opener and I think they will play the same pace attack that went against New Zealand. They do have another concern over the fitness of Zaheer Khan who pulled up in his Ranji Trophy match with what was said to be cramp; he did not play in the rest of the match and was apparently still not one hundred per cent fit still at the start of India’s three day training camp ahead of the Test. But this is hardly new and all things considered I would be surprised to see any change from the Indian side who played New Zealand apart from the return of Yuvraj Singh.

This series will very likely revolve around how well England manage to play spin. On paper one would likely say they are the better side; the only thing India have that England do not is Sachin Tendulkar. But a very similar assessment held true before the Pakistan and Sri Lanka series earlier this year as well. In those series all of England’s theoretical (and in the case of the bowling very real) advantages were rendered irrelevant by the inability of the batsmen to reliably play spin. Some hints of this problem have shown up on this tour; notably Yuvraj Singh took five wickets for India A in the first tour. But mostly England have not faced spin of note so it is hard to gauge how they will fare in the first Test. The batsmen have spent a lot of time in the middle against the much weaker attacks from the touring sides and the hope for England will be that the confidence and form from those matches will carry over and outweigh the novelty of good spin in the Tests. It could happen that way, certainly. But that is very much the optimistic view.

The batsmen will at the same time hope that they won’t have to do too much more than they did last winter. England’s bowling attack performed very well in similar conditions in the UAE and Sri Lanka, but this time they will have to keep that form up for four Tests instead of only two or three. But they appear to have a better balance to the attack and, early tour niggles notwithstanding, they have had better luck with injuries. Regardless of who gets the nod in the first Test they will have two bowlers watching from the pavilion who would walk into most sides. It will of course not be easy for the England bowlers; India have some very good batsmen. Virat Kohli is in excellent form, Cheteshwar Pujara scored a solid 87 against England in the tour match and one can never discount Tendulkar. But there are weaknesses, particularly the out-of-form openers. Also Pujara is very inexperienced and Tendulkar is nearing the end of his career. Overall it should not be a harder task than the one England’s bowlers faced last winter, but they will need to perform to the same very high standard as they did last winter and they will need some support from the batsmen this time.

For both teams this is an excellent opportunity. England have not faced an Indian side this weak for some time and probably will not again for some time. But India have a chance for revenge against an England side that looked last winter like they would struggle to beat Bangladesh A in the subcontinent. I think England will do better than is feared; I don’t think they will capitulate the way they did last winter. I think Cook in his new role as full-time Captain will have a good series, but I also think that the rest of the performances with the bat will be scattered. I expect a fairly low-scoring series overall as England’s bowlers keep the matches within reach, but ultimately I think India will get more timely batting performances and will win 2-1. It could very easily go the other way and I hope it does, but right now India look like slight favourites.

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