India’s downfall from being the top-ranked Test team started in 2011, when they suffered a humiliating defeat (0-4) at the hands of the home side while playing in England. Andrew Strauss & Co. not only won the series in an emphatic fashion but also leapfrogged the MS Dhoni-led side to become the new World No. 1. Since then, India haven’t won a Test series outside the sub-continent.
After a gap of three years, India are all set to bury the ghosts when they play a five-match Test series once again in England, starting from July 9 at Nottingham. A new-look Indian squad is undoubtedly far less-experienced than the team which was humiliated last time in England. But Indian coach, Duncan Fletcher, feels that the unpredictability of the side could be its strength on this two-and-a-half month long tour, comprising five Tests, five ODIs and a sole T20.
Few arm-chair critics believe that India have the best chance to take revenge from England, as they have been going through a transition face and more importantly, team’s morale would be on an all-time low after their whitewash in return Ashes, followed by their first Test series loss to Sri Lanka on home soil. In fact, their skipper Alastair Cook is also facing lot of criticism from all corners for his ‘boring’ captaincy and batting failure.
But even then, Cook’s Indian counterpart Dhoni, backed the beleaguered skipper by stating: “A bad phase is something that every player goes through and you just need to back players at the right point because when you are getting those big hundreds and two-hundreds then everybody will be on your side. What`s important is for the media to realise what they were saying about him the last time we were here how well he has performed.”
After two consecutive Test series defeats, England team has been under scanner but even then India skipper is in no mood to take their opponents lightly. “I still think England are a fantastic side. Which means it will be a tough competition for us and they know the home conditions better than us.”
Dhoni is quite aware of the fact that if England are struggling at the moment, then he too has an inexperienced side to lead. In the 18-member Test squad, only three Indian players – Dhoni, reserve opener Gautam Gambhir and speedster Ishant Sharma -- have the experience of playing Test cricket in England. However, unlike last time, this time Indian team has reached well in advance to acclimatise with the conditions, which might give a fair chance to the youngsters to adjust before the Test series kicks-off. India can also take heart from the fact that in the current squad, there are many players, who were part of last year’s ICC Champions Trophy, which India won by beating the host nation (England) in the final.
Like always, this time too, India’s batting would be their strength on the much -anticipated tour. Inclusion of experienced opener Gambhir can prove as a trump card. The southpaw is making a Test comeback after more than one-and-a-half years, as he last played a Test against England in December, 2012. After a decent IPL-7 and domestic season with the bat, the Delhi opener would be more than eager to prove a point -- that there is still a lot of cricket left in him.
Though, the mainstay of Indian batting line-up will be Virat Kohli, who has been the backbone of the Indian team in all formats of late. Another batsman who has been rated very highly after the retirement of ‘The Wall’ Rahul Dravid, is Cheteshwar Pujara. He has been a revelation in the five-day format for India and has the best chance to prove his calibre on this tour. Pujara possesses everything a one-down batsman requires, so he just has to apply himself and keep a high-price tag on his wicket.
In the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Kohli and MS Dhoni, India have some exciting middle-order batsmen. But in England, a lot will depend on how Indian openers tackle the new Duke ball.
In the bowling department, India have seamers like Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami who have good control over their seam and swing, which can give the English batsmen a tough time in the middle. But a lot can depend on the form of erratic and most experienced fast bowler in the lot, Ishant Sharma. Though, he performed decently in the last tour of New Zealand, Ishant has to be sharper with his line and length to trouble the English side. A bowler who relies more on pace than swing, Varun Aaron, too has a good chance to impress on the bouncy tracks of England. However, Pankaj Singh and Ishwar Pandey, would be eager to play their maiden Test for India. Both can be prove to be dangerous in English conditions, where they can extract some extra bounce and pace from the wicket.
R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are the two genuine spinners in the team but it’s highly unlikely that they both will play, at least in the first couple of matches. Given a choice, Dhoni might still choose Jadeja over Ashwin. Stuart Binny, who bowled a record match-winning spell against Bangladesh recently, might still have to wait for his Test debut.
England’s tour is the first real opportunity for Indian youngsters to make an impact and fancy their chances to be a part of the 2015 World Cup. Dhoni would also look to level the scores with England, to prove that he still has the mojo to win Test matches outside the sub-continent.