June 24, 2014

The importance of England v India

Why the upcoming series has all the makings of a historic turning point

Don't believe Fletcher when he says India are a work in progress © PTI

It doesn't feel polite to be writing about India while England are still engaging Sri Lanka with a potentially definitive day left at Headingley, but such is the nature of our summers now: hors d'ouvre and then main event. India are on their way, and England will feel their weight, both on and off the pitch.

It is hard to recall a time when so much has changed between two sides in two series. When India were last here, emotionally exhausted from the World Cup win and with the heavy narrative of Tendulkar's 100th international century distorting the significance of the rest of their batting, England won 4-0. Only the mighty Wall was still standing by the end, as India ceded the No. 1 ranking and its glowing golden mace to a side that was reaching what we can judge in retrospect to be a formidable but short-lived peak.

Cut forward four years and both teams have gone through generational shifts. India's side is full of the thrill of the new; England are less sure that they are entering an era capable of matching the old.

Duncan Fletcher is, as ever, lowering expectations by talking of India as a work in progress but he's fooling no one. It is a team full of players who have grown up under the heat of the spotlight: they have been seasoned by IPLs and World T20s and away series in South Africa and New Zealand. There is a vast gulf, for example, between the careers and life experience of Virat Kohli, 25, and Gary Ballance, 24, or Ravi Ashwin, 27, and Moeen Ali, also 27. And if Alastair Cook is feeling the heat of captaining England, imagine - if it's possible - the life that MS Dhoni has been living for a decade. No, it's a nice try, Duncan, but we're not buying that one.

For me, India start as favourites. The weather has been good, the pitches are flat and getting flatter and England's four quick bowlers are facing a seven-Test summer in a team with no established spinner. Over five matches the greater quality will out, and that is India's.

But this is about more than just the cricket. The five-match series will be the first India have played in England since 1959; indeed it the first that MS Dhoni has ever contested. It is also the tipping point, the moment at which India is acknowledged as the game's leader both on and off the pitch. The patchy history, the colonial past… they are consigned now. With yet more symbolism, the team arrives the same week that the Big Three take a chokehold on the ICC and future of international cricket. (Ah, the Big Three - now there's a misnomer: it's the Big One and its lackeys.)

It is this difference in feeling that is the biggest shift since 2010. India's emergence as a thrusting modern powerhouse, its destiny as seductive as it is unknowable, has changed the way that it is perceived by the wider world. The energy and ambition are palpable. In years to come, this series may be looked upon as the turning point, the moment at which the past fell away and a new world began to form. The cricket, especially the batting, will be a feast, but the meaning of the tour will be far greater than the result. The future of the sport itself is invested in India and its team.

Jon Hotten blogs here and tweets here

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  • Balaji on June 26, 2014, 11:44 GMT

    Yorkshirematt, you are right, but this Indian team is quite inexperienced. The batsmen are looking good, but it requires endurance to last a 5 test series. The bowling is also new. Add to that a captain who is brilliant in the limited over matches and extremely conservative in Tests, we have to be very cautious. We remember the way Dhoni captained in New Zealand.

  • Balaji on June 26, 2014, 5:08 GMT

    its.rachit, you are right. I looked it up later. India played 2 5 test series in 1997 and 2002. What I am trying to say is that 5 tests is going to be both a test of physical and mental endurance. The English have played 5 Test series thanks to the Ashes. Vughanographic, maybe you are right, but Zaheer and Praveen are both recovering from an injury. Last time around in 2011, India made the mistake of selecting quite a few players who were way below prime fitness and paid the penalty in a horror tour.The selection committee has done well by taking the decision based on availability. Maybe Umesh Yadav should have been included. Binny was a strange selection. But on the whole the selectors have done a decent job.

  • Arvind on June 25, 2014, 17:11 GMT

    The Indians' tour couldn't have come at a better time for England. They are world renowned for helping struggling players and teams get back in form with their bowling and batting. England players should use this opportunity to help themselves to a few centuries, 5-fors, or both, and hang on to their place in the side for a while longer.

  • sandeep on June 25, 2014, 16:38 GMT

    @Ahmad Uetian , really?? you are going to compare Mathews with Rahul Dravid? mathews has just started playing decently. Dravid has been there, done that lot of times over. So lets talk about Mathews in 5 years. India's batting is in good hands. Pujara has so much pressure on him to do well in ODI's that its playing in his head. But Pujara in test is a totally different player. I would be surprised if he is not one of the top 3 run scorers in the series. About India's bowling, its as inexperienced as SL's bowling and everyone knows how that series ended. No one is going to get freebies, lets see how many cook scores. 2011 team was on its way down, the seniors were all on the edge of retiring. Am sure this team will perform way better.

  • Matthew on June 25, 2014, 14:38 GMT

    However 'friendly' the Indian bowling is expected to be, it will still be too much for England, especially the old guard of Cook, Bell and Prior. The 'New Era' boys will have good days but also very bad days as they did against Sri Lanka. Same with the bowling. If any of Gambhir, Pujara, Kohli or Dhoni get in the English bowlers will be in for a long day, but there'll also be times when England bowl well. The strange thing is you Indian fans seem to be far more reserved about the team's chances this time round compared to the hype of 2011 when in fact they have a great chance of winning this series!

  • Vijay on June 25, 2014, 12:56 GMT

    Even the relatively experienced Pujara looked fragile against Bangaldeshi bowlers in seam friendly subcontinent pitches. The likes of Anderson and Broad can run through the Indian order with no problem, especially in English conditions. The presence of Ganbhir is a huge boost to the Indian team in terms of experience. He, Kohli and MSD are the only Indian batsmen who can lift the team to a respectable total. And then comes the toothless Indian bowling. With the current bowling lineup that India has, the priority is always to contain the opposition, not picking 20 wickets required to win a Test. Ishant Sharma is the only Indian pacer who looks moderately threatening in seam friendly conditions.

  • Rachit on June 25, 2014, 11:40 GMT

    @balaji - India played a couple of 5 test series in WI in 90s and 2002 and lost both of them ... but yeah none of the current lot have played in a 5 mac series ... the intensity required to win a 5 match series is te key here ... thankfully the dibbly-dobbly pacers that India has will las the race .. i hope India wins a couple of matches even if they lose the series .. a 4-0 of 5-0 defeat will scar the current generation forever and they might not recover from it .. people might remember the english during the 90s ... they were not world beatres but the "warne ball to gatting" ensured the entire generation forgot how to play spin .. and the english turned it around only after 10 years when atherton/stewart/hick/rampraksh/hussain/thorpe were replaced by trescothick/strauss/KP and the likes ... such a scenario might be dooming for India with a test series adn Wc coming up in Australia .

  • Dummy4 on June 25, 2014, 9:45 GMT

    The difference b/w an overrated accumulator: Dravid & a match winner: Marhews is evident here. His aggressive 100s saved SL the 1st test & won them the 2nd despite SL having similar bowling attack to Ind. He played for runs not just defended even when SL was on mat in 2nd inns. Dravid scored 3 100s in 2011 Eng tour & Ind lost all 3 tests

    Sachin's selfish 100s at least helped Ind draw a large proportion of matches, most of which Ind could have won, but for toothless Ind bowling Ind didn't

    Cook & co will score huge runs vs friendly Ind bowling

    ECB removed legends KP, aggressive bowler Finn & a world class spinner Swan & outcome is there

    Casual SL bowling on final day made test artificially interesting They shouldve won test by tea

    Broad is the most overrated toothless bowler

    Finally DRS proved its worth: giving correct decision on final critical moment in 1st test, as series would have otherwise been unfairly leveled at 1-1. Absence of DRS will let Ind poor batsmen score some runs

  • Balaji on June 25, 2014, 8:44 GMT

    As far as I can remember, the last time India played a 5 Test series was in 1991-92, when Sachin Tendulkar was just starting to blossom. Now not only is he gone, a whole generation who came with and after him are also gone. The seniormost player in this team is Dhoni, who has been around since 2004, but cemented his place in 2006. The very lack of experience of having played a 5 Test series will go against India. In contrast, England have played a lot of those. The batsmen are young, most of them in their 1st full year of Test cricket except possible Pujara, who is in his 2nd. The bowlers with the exception of Ishant Sharma are inexperienced. On the whole, I would pick England as favourites. However I have gone horribly wrong before. In the last winter's Ashes, I picked England to win and we all know what happened

  • Vaughan on June 25, 2014, 8:38 GMT

    I think if India had picked the right quicks they would have stood a good chance. Zaheer, Praveen Kumar and B Kumar (thankfully he is picked) would have been a handful on good swing and seam conditions. Yadav's omission is also bonkers.

    That said, with the way England is playing, anything could happen. They need to pick a spinner for the series and grow with him

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