India in England 2011

A contest that's equal to the hype

For the players of both sides this series may not be the ultimate match-up, but there is more than enough potential for it to develop into a contest worth top billing

Andrew Miller at Lord's

July 19, 2011

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Duncan Fletcher and Sachin Tendulkar at Lord's, July 19 2011
Sachin Tendulkar and Duncan Fletcher plot England's downfall in the first Test © Getty Images
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Series/Tournaments: India tour of England
Teams: England | India

There is a scene in the acclaimed documentary Fire in Babylon in which the great West Indians of the 1970s and 80s reflect on the "Calypso" generation that preceded their rise to world domination. Turning up, giving everyone a good show, then losing in a charming fashion - just as they did on the tied-Test tour of Australia in 1960-61 - was a trait that may have proved endearing, but it was one that Clive Lloyd's mean machine soon made it their mission to banish.

A similar change of mindset has taken hold of India's cricketers in the space of a generation. Twenty-one years ago, almost to the week, these two teams took part in one of the most acclaimed mismatches of all time -the Lord's Test of 1990, when Kiran More's fumble set Graham Gooch on his way to a career-best 333, and England to victory by 247 runs. Along the way, however, India's own calypso qualities captured the English public's imagination - from the impossibly wristy riposte of their captain, Mohammad Azharuddin, through Kapil Dev's four consecutive sixes to save the follow-on, and through an outstanding one-handed running catch from a 17-year-old prodigy, Sachin Tendulkar - who, within a fortnight, would record the first of his 99 not out international centuries.

As Wisden Cricket Monthly's editor, David Frith, wrote at the time, that match played out like a midsummer dream, and two decades on, Tendulkar's enduring presence in India's ranks confirms the other-worldliness of that era. At some stage in the coming days, Tendulkar will march out to the crease for his fifth Test appearance at the game's grandest venue, knowing that he has an opportunity to record arguably the most incredible achievement in one of the greatest sporting careers of them all. Perhaps more importantly, however, he'll be seeking to cement his team's credentials as the most formidable outfit in the modern-day game.

However and wherever it arrives - and he will surely not fall Bradman-esquely short - the romance of Tendulkar's hundredth hundred will be a distant echo of those early days in international cricket. The team of which he remains such a formidable component has changed beyond recognition in the intervening years, in attitude as much as output. These days, India sit atop both Test and one-day trees, and go about their business with a swagger that, like West Indies and Australia before them, reflects their sense of entitlement. They are the game's modern-day galacticos, and they play with expectation where hope once held sway.

Where England are concerned, that attitude is particularly justified. Despite a supposed fallibility outside of Asia, India have not lost at home or away in five series since Rahul Dravid first appeared on the scene in 1996, and despite England's belief that greentops are the key to ending that sequence, their traumatic defeats at Headingley in 2002 and Trent Bridge five years later are potent reminders of the class that resides in their opponents' batting ranks. India have lost just two series out of 15 since their mould-breaking triumph in 2007, and none in the last three years. The financial might of the BCCI is nowadays matched, in no uncertain terms, by an intimidatory on-field clout.

Mind you, England are themselves in a mean streak of Test form, with seven series wins and a draw in eight outings since May 2009, which means that the coming contest ought to be the finest tussle on these shores since the epic Ashes summer of 2005. Then as now, two genuine contenders for the World Test Championship crown are about to go head to head, and if the hype surrounding this series is more muted than one might expect in the circumstances, then that is most likely a reflection of the two teams' obsessions with their principal foes, Australia and Pakistan - against whom they each recorded a memorable triumph in the winter just gone.

Nevertheless, a contest of this calibre needs no over-egging, and it is strangely refreshing that the cricket has, for once, been left to do much of the talking. If England can win the series by two clear Tests out of four, they will have achieved their stated ambition of becoming the world's No.1 Test side, a position they've not held since Peter May held sway in the early 1950s. That scoreline might be too much to expect, even for a team that condemned Australia to three innings defeats on home soil in the recent Ashes, but there's little doubt that England are primed for the challenge that awaits them - more so, arguably, than their opponents who were a clear second-best in their solitary warm-up against Somerset earlier in the week.

It was not an auspicious arrival, as Somerset racked up a grand total of 685 for 5 in two innings, either side of rolling their opponents for 224. However, there's one particular member of the Indian party who will shrug his shoulders at such events. Throughout his seven-year tenure as England coach, Duncan Fletcher treated warm-up matches with disdain, often using 13 or 14 players in what amounted to glorified nets sessions. It is an attitude that could not be further removed from the approach of his fellow Zimbabwean, Andy Flower who, back in November, treated England's three first-class fixtures in the lead-up to the Ashes as unofficial Tests, and reaped the rewards of his team's intensity.

Fletcher's crossing of the floor promises to be the zestiest subplot of a spicy summer. The manner of his departure in 2007 was bitter in the extreme, and continues to mask the extent to which his efforts laid the foundations of the world-class side that England are now becoming. To judge from recent history, his calm and considered manner will fit well with an Indian dressing room that prefers its coaches in the John Wright/Gary Kirsten backroom mould, even if Dravid admitted they are still getting to grips with his well-disguised sense of humour.

Nevertheless, his credentials as a pure batting coach are not in doubt, with Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen among his keenest disciples in the England team. With that in mind, the insider knowledge he can impart to India's attack could have more bearing on the series than any nuggets of wisdom he can pass on to the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid and VVS Laxman. A trio with 99 Test centuries between them are a bit long in the tooth to learn the merits of the forward press.

It will not have escaped Fletcher's attention that India is the one Test nation that he never managed to beat during his days with England, so it would doubtless grate if Flower were to put that record straight at the first attempt. But despite their common heritage and studious demeanours, the nature of their rivalry is very much a theoretical one. As Flower showed by ducking the victory podium in Sydney back in January, he too prefers his players to hog the limelight.

The key head-to-heads will be on-field ones. Andrew Strauss's twin innings of 78 and 109 not out at Taunton took some of the edge off his duel with Zaheer Khan, even if another cheap left-arm dismissal at Lord's will reawaken the clamour in double-quick time. James Anderson's lateral movement will be starkly complemented by the steepling bounce of Chris Tremlett - two bowlers who have matured beyond recognition since their fitfully impressive performances in 2007, and whose efforts against India's senior batsmen could define the shape of the series.

And then there's England's own run-machines - Alastair Cook, a centurion on debut against India in 2006, and the possessor of six hundreds in his last ten Tests, and Jonathan Trott, whose average after 21 appearances (62.23) exceeds even that of Tendulkar. With Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell in exquisite form in the third Test against Sri Lanka, there's no reason for England to question their right to challenge the world's best - especially given the size of the hole left by Virender Sehwag at the top of India's order. More than any other batsman, his ability and willingness to batter good bowling sets him apart from his peers, and therefore his absence for one, maybe two, Tests is hugely significant.

The restrictions on DRS could also be a major factor, not so much for the decisions that go one way or the other, but for the friction that could be created between two sides that will not need much invitation to get feisty with one another. As England discovered to their cost at Trent Bridge four years ago, when a misplaced jelly bean sparked a diplomatic incident, India's players know how to fight - not only their corner, but their opponent's as well. That Calypso tendency is a thing of the dim and distant past. When battle commences on Thursday, neither side will have any doubt as to the intensity.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Meety on (July 22, 2011, 2:57 GMT)

@sweetspot - Lords IS a great ground because it IS the spiritual home of cricket, to say anything else really means you'd be better off following Baseball. @kingscorpio - the difference between 1billion & 5 million is nothing when it is the WHOLE of a nation. Even when Westen Samoa won their famous W/Cup Rugby QTR Final against Wales - they had the pressure of a nation (albeit about 160,000) on their back. During the Ashes bodyline a series that most resembles the modern era, Bradman manufactured an ave around 57, (& it was rising). He did this on pitches that could rear up unexpectadly & he did it with nothing but some pads, gloves & a box, (maybe some towels around the ribs). Also remember that much of Bradman's career was during the great Depression & War years, if THAT isn't pressure mate - what is? @ ashankar - Don played against 2 of the greastest spinners of all time in O'Reilly & Grimmett. Had he played India he would of most probably destroyed them.

Posted by Trickstar on (July 21, 2011, 18:48 GMT)

india-the-worldchampions Give it a rest, England have 2 of the top 3 places in the rankings and Tremlett is at 11 only because of the amount of games he's played. Whereas India have 6,7,and 8 places and you seriously claim India have a better attack than England, hahaha good joke that.

Posted by Alexk400 on (July 21, 2011, 14:25 GMT)

My prediction come half true. That zaheer khan will be toothless or going to be injured. I am nostradamous.

Posted by vinjoy on (July 21, 2011, 8:29 GMT)

TO Most of the readers in this thread: I am tired of Sachinization of cricket. Please.. there is more to cricket than SRT. Spare of thought of 21 other players who take as much pride and make as much effort on the field as SRT. Be just.

Posted by   on (July 21, 2011, 8:15 GMT)

" go about their business with a swagger that, like West Indies and Australia before them" "They are the game's modern-day galacticos" ... Mr milller this a bit over the top. I think in terms of swagger or style they are no where near likes of Steve Waugh's, Clive loyd's or Richard's teams as yet. Indian batting is not short of anything but its their bowling which just does not measure up.

Munaf patel, Amit misra the galecto?

Posted by Marcio on (July 21, 2011, 7:05 GMT)

Anyone who argues that batting was easier in the Don Bradman's day is deluding themselves. The number of runs per innings, and the rate of centuries scored per innings have increased greatly since Bradman's days. This makes Bradman's achievements even more remarkable. Any fool can see that there are a lack of great bowlers in recent years, and that batting averages have gone up as a result. Tendulkar has played the last decade, and especially the last 5 years, against some of the easiest batting conditions ever, which has enabled him to prolong his career. Here's the stats which offer incontrovertible proof proof: http://www.espncricinfo.com/thebig_2000_test/content/current/story/523260.html.

Posted by Malepati on (July 21, 2011, 5:58 GMT)

There seems to be lot of euphoria around this seires for obvious reasons. The first thing is that Lords is hosting its 100th test on the same day(July 21st) where it hosted its first test which is an incredible coincidence, the number 1 rank is at stake for the both the teams and the big one is Sachin on the verge of recording his 100th international ton. But personally am keeping an open mind becuase both the teams are equally balanced and we cannot predict who will win the series, it is going to an exciting series to watch, the great Indian batting line-up with likes of schin,laxman and rahul dravid against the swing of english bowlers. Hopefully the rain does not play spoilsport.

Posted by inswing on (July 21, 2011, 3:44 GMT)

This is a very solid English team, and the series should be very competitive. But the traditional strength of English journalists and some players is to make excuses. Last time the excuses started before the series began in the English toured India. "We are not really expecting to win, it doesn't matter to us that much, if we give you fight you should be ashamed." Miller once wrote about an English loss in Pak that the side was not really interested because there were not enough people in the stadium! So you can expect excuses to fly hard and fast if the team appears to be on shaky ground. Only the Ashes really matters, the team is rebuilding, they are tired after the Ashes and the SL tour, and so on. But good luck to both side, hopefully on one will have resort to jelly beans to eek out a win.

Posted by Angad11 on (July 20, 2011, 23:24 GMT)

LOL @JawedSyed - Obviously, either you are too ignorant who has never held a cricket bat in ur life or you some kind of attention-seeking ... or may be just trying to be mischievious, nice try if u did. Just search for the name Sachin Tendulkar on Cricinfo's page, you will see something that might just open your eyes.

Posted by   on (July 20, 2011, 23:13 GMT)

usa must grow in the most amazing sports in the world , rugby , cricket and handball

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
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