Dhoni the key, says Swann
England won't be focussing all their efforts on Sachin Tendulkar during the first Test at Lord's, being fully aware that India have a host of batsmen capable of match-winning innings, and Graeme Swann has suggested that it's MS Dhoni whom they need to keep under pressure rather than the player with 99 international hundreds.
Much of the build-up to the opening match of a highly-anticipated series between the No. 1 team in the world and the side that can overtake them with a two-Test winning margin, has focussed on Tendulkar's quest for a century of centuries. If that happens at Lord's it would also be Tendulkar's first at the home of cricket. Like Lara before him, it's a rare honour to have eluded him so far. But, perhaps because of Tendulkar's record at Lord's, or perhaps to play down some of the expectation, Swann insisted England wouldn't take their eye off the bigger picture.
"It would be very, very risky to focus all our energies on Sachin Tendulkar," he said. "Sure, he's the best player in the modern generation but they've got so many other good players, and if we focus all our energies on just one guy, there's going to be someone else sneaking in the back door.
"MS Dhoni is possibly the most charismatic Indian player they have ever had, and you only have to be in India to realise the sway he holds in that country now," he added. "He's probably a more important member of the team right now than any other player, because he leads from the front and is a very dangerous cricketer. If we can get at anyone, he's probably the key man."
Tim Bresnan, who is expected to miss out on England's final XI, took a typically down-to-earth view of bowling to Tendulkar, remembering what he confronted during the World Cup when Tendulkar scored 120. "If you could bowl to him in Bangalore, you could bowl to him anywhere else," he said, before briefly remembering Tendulkar's stint at Yorkshire in 1992. "I caught up with him a couple of years ago and he said he really enjoyed his time at Yorkshire. He's kind of an adopted Yorkie - but he's still a decent scalp if I get him out."
England's success against Tendulkar, when it has come, has often been from full deliveries that have found him trapped on the crease, especially early in an innings. James Anderson and Matthew Hoggard, swing bowlers who pitch the ball up, have removed him on eight occasions in all (Chris Lewis sits between that pair as the second most successful England bowler against Tendulkar), although they have also attempted periods of short-pitched bowling.
Chris Tremlett, who made his debut against India on this ground in 2007, is hoping for the chance to test out all the India batsmen with some short bowling. "That's the aggressive side to fast bowling," he said. "The Rose Bowl [against Sri Lanka] was a satisfying wicket to bowl on, getting guys jumping around. Those types of wickets, like the ones in Australia, are the best cricket wickets when the ball comes through and the tall guys can get the ball through - although I'm going to say that as I'm tall."
One batsman none of the England bowlers will have to worry about dismissing, at least for the first two Tests, is Virender Sehwag who is still recovering from the shoulder surgery that forced him to miss the recent West Indies tour. England know all about Sehwag's ability to change a Test in a session after his 83 off 68 balls in Chennai put India on course for their emotional win in 2008, which was completed by Tendulkar's unbeaten hundred.
"Whenever you take a player of his quality out of a team, it is going to be a loss, no matter who replaces him," Swann said. "As a team you get used to relying on guys who are that good, and over last three or four years, Sehwag has been phenomenal in both forms of the game. If you took Jonathan Trott out of our team, it would be a big hole to fill for whoever comes in. Yes, it is going to be a blow for India, how big you never know, because we don't know how long he's out for. He's one of the best players in the world."
Regardless of Sehwag's absence, it will be a major challenge for England to regularly dismiss India twice during the Tests. They'll be hoping the call for pitches in their favour is heeded, although Lord's may not be as accommodating as other venues.
"I always believe that home advantage should be exactly that, we should tailor pitches to suit our seam attack because on our pitches it's the best attack in the world," Swann said. "But put the pitches to one side, if the ball swings through the air, I think we'll be very dangerous."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo