When India toured England last year, the two teams had plenty to prove. It was a series which was to decide the best Test team. It was a series between the then-number one (India) and an aspiring number one (England).
India, who went there with the Test crown, were hammered by the hosts in all departments. The 4-0 drabbing that they received at the hands of the Englishmen not only saw them losing the numero uno spot in Tests, it actually had stirred the very foundation of one of the most fantastic Indian teams of the last one decade.
The downfall, which started in England, saw its nadir in Australia where India had to face the same ignominy. Two of their Test stalwarts – Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman – retired after the dual tours in which India lost in eight consecutive Tests.
Serious questions were raised against MS Dhoni’s captaincy skills. India’s one of the best opening pairs, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir’s technical capabilities of scoring runs on hard and bouncy tracks were doubted. Even the demand for Sachin’s retirement had started gaining momentum.
Though some former cricketers and cricket critics don’t want to see the series as a ‘revengeful’ one, the wounds the Englishmen inflicted on Dhoni’s troupes have surely not healed. Term it revenge or not, the fact is that under pressure, Dhoni would definitely want to pay it back to the English team which had showed them no mercy.
Things have certainly changed from the time England humiliated India on their home soil. England, who took over the number one rankings from the Indians, had to give away to the South Africans a couple of months back after some ordinary performances in the subcontinent.
Andrew Strauss, who quit as a Test captain, will no longer be marshalling his resources. The England team has been marred by the Kevin Pietersen controversy pretty badly. Though the talented batsman had been included in the last minutes by the English board, it would be foolish to expect that everybody in the team is happy with his inclusion.
Despite India winning their home series against New Zealand a couple of months back, things did not look rosy at all for Dhoni’s men. Though Cheteshwar Pujara seamlessly filled up Dravid’s shoes against the Kiwis and Virat Kohli continued to impress, the form of the opening duo of Sehwag and Gambhir still remains a worrying factor. Sachin’s run-draught is another thing which is being discussed at length by the entire country.
It has been two years that both Sehwag and Gambhir has scored their Test tons. If India have to do well, both Sehwag and Gambhir have to fire upfront. It’s not only the lack of runs but the way they got out that remains the most perturbing issue. Both of them were found technically wanting in England and Australia. With Ajinkya Rahane scoring heavily in the domestic circuit, it would be very difficult for the selectors to back India’s ‘all time best opening pair’.
Though the selectors have chosen Yuvraj Singh for the number 6 slot, it’s not clear whether he is fit to take the rigour of Test cricket or not. Since he has not done that well in the longer format in the past also makes him vulnerable against the English attack, which is one of the best in the world.
The spin department – Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha – had bowled well against the technically-ill-equipped New Zealand batsmen. Though Umesh Yadav bowled with a lot of fire, Zaheer Khan’s longevity in the Test team still remains uncertain. The third pacer in the team, Ishant Sharma, bowled with a lot of pace in the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh Ranji Trophy match, but somehow, the problem of not taking enough wickets continues to haunt him.
The English team is also not at their best at the moment. They lost the home series against South Africa, which saw one of their most successful Test captains – Andrew Strauss – calling it quits. Apart from Pietersen, most of their batsmen and bowlers have struggled against the Proteas. Nick Compton, though has almost sealed the opener’s slot vacated by Strauss, it won’t be easy for him to perform in these conditions.
They do have some good batsmen in skipper Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, but it is the form of maverick Pietersen on which England’s batting success in India depends.
The English team’s capability of playing quality spin would also be a huge factor in deciding the Test series. Their performance would depend on how they performed against Ashwin, Ojha and Harbhajan Singh, who was selected in the Test team after almost one year.
Though the series is no more an intriguing battle for World number one, there is hardly any doubt that it will be a hard-fought one.