The English Romance
Like a typical Hollywood movie featuring everything you’d expect, from a romantic comedy to drama, thriller, sci-fi, and horror flick. An Indian overseas tour doesn’t get any different from that either. The lions on home soil are turned into the cubs while playing abroad. The grassy pitch gives them the goose bumps like a long scary dark night, the tall lanky quicks from the opposition turn into the monsters, who charge towards batsman as if they had a plan to kill them. The romance happens to be between spin and an individual effort with the bat kept flirting with the horror of defeat in between. And all this drama is squeezed with the series of losses abroad. This has been the story thus far in three years!
India’s previous tour to England sparked off a lull in overseas form. They lost eight Tests in a row and went down 0-1 to South Africa and New Zealand each. Their most recent victory away from home was against West Indies in 2011. The last time India went to England was also in 2011 with the No.1 Test side in the world. The form, reputation and the kind of cricket they played during that time gave the impression that it would be hard for England to beat them. But, what happened in a month’s time was surprising as India was not only comprehensively beaten but lost the series 4-0 and also the No.1 spot. The story got worse from bad as India again faced a whitewash in Australia. The anger broke out in the media and many experts suggested dropping Dhoni from (Test) captaincy.
Since then there have been numerous twists and turns as India once again prepare itself to tour England. It will be the first time from 1959 that India is going to play five Tests on an England tour. There are lot of differences between the 2011 side and the current lot. India is placed fifth on the test ranking. The famous trio (Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman) have retired. Sehwag is not anymore playing for India; Gambhir is trying to get back into the form, the opening duo of Rohit and Shikhar are also down in the form. In short, an unsettled and fairly inexperienced lot are going for the biggest test of their life.
Swing and seam are bound to make all the difference in England, and India have picked a few good new ball bowlers, who need to shine for the team to make early inroads and get into the crumbly English middle order. The new ball wickets are the key, since, if they don’t come, India will be severely disadvantaged, and, with the England bowling being better, the batsmen will be up against it to make up for their bowlers. Bhuvneshwar and Ishwar/Shami are vital for India’s chances first up. India may not have a Mitchell Johnson to scare the hell out of England, but the Indian bowlers have the ability to hunt in pairs to knock England off.
Former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar says “It will be tough for India. We need to have bowlers who can get them out twice, we will play with four bowlers and out of them you have to have two who can get 10 wickets in a match, and I don’t see anyone (capable of) doing it.”
England will be missing the services of some of its key players. Kevin Pietersen has been left out and Graeme Swann has retired. Both played key roles in victories against India in the recent past. Also the two warm-up matches India is scheduled to play before the first Test will be crucial, as these will allow Dhoni to play around with combinations and judge the form of each player.
It seems to be the time for India to strike gold. We must be wary, as concentrating on the weakness of the opposition often catches us off guard, like England found against Australia in the Ashes. Much like India, England are a team that rely a lot on pre-planning. The hesitancy to change plans on the field makes them vulnerable, and, when things don’t go their way, the game will be gone before they know it, just like it happened against Australia. If we manage to put England off their plans by counter-attacking them, suddenly the over-defensive Alastair Cook comes out and spreads the field, thereby taking the pressure off the opponents. Shikhar, Kohli and Dhoni are ideal for such roles: to counter-attack and knock the opposition off their perch.
The lower middle order is also a key to success in England as often in the last Ashes series, we saw Australia getting to starts like 98-4, 100-5; it was the lower-middle order that contributed to their success. England did suffer to get rid of the Australian tail-enders as they played some handy knocks, which ultimately proved to be the difference between 275 and 400. Dhoni will have a task to balance his team well. Rahane, Jadeja, Ashwin, and Bhuvi’s performance with the bat is going to be decisive. If India manages to do half of these things right, the pain of 4-0 may just subside a bit. If they don’t, tough decisions will have to be made.
By Sorabh Aggarwal