Lions await India on placid pitch
If the Indians happen to glance at the scorecard of the recently concluded Essex-Nottinghamshire fixture, they might think that the M20 was redirected through the centre of the County Ground in Chelmsford. The pitch used for the encounter might just have been tarred, with both teams amassing in excess of 700 in a rather pointless exercise.
A board inside the club premises shows that the Australian tourists of 1948 rattled up a monumental 723 against Essex, though that was at Southend-on-Sea. It got to such a point that Keith Miller decided to gift his wicket at the lack of a challenge. The Indians have a challenge in front of them all right, taking on England A, a side filled with fringe players staking their claim.
Rahul Dravid is the sort who loves to bat till eternity, and would no doubt relish a good batting surface, but it was decided to give him a rest as a precautionary measure. He had suffered a calf strain on the first day of the Sussex tour game and required a runner in the second innings. Though he has recovered, it was decided to wrap him in cotton-wool for the first Test at Lord's, starting in a week's time.
Sachin Tendulkar, who's captained India in 25 Tests and 73 ODIs but never on English soil, will lead in Dravid's absence. It was also decided that Gautam Gambhir, who cracked a solid 81 in the first innings at Hove, Anil Kumble and RP Singh, the left-arm seamer, would sit out of this game. That leaves a squad of 12 and one can expect Ishant Sharma to beat Ranadeb Bose for the final slot. Bose got a chance at Hove and this game, the last before the Tests, gives India a chance to test out all their available options.
Neither of them might enjoy this surface though, with the sight of the groundsman shaving off the grass coming as an ominous sign. "They're trying to leave a bit of grass on the pitch because the previous game had both teams scoring 700-plus," said Chandu Borde, the former Indian middle-order batsman who's currently the team manager. "The groundsman said it will be a batsman's paradise. We'll see the pitch tomorrow before selecting the XI."
Irrespective of the nature of the pitch, Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Zaheer Khan and Ramesh Powar should get a game. They were rested at Hove but this is where they need to apply the finishing touches before the Lord's Test. The first three are certainties. The fourth, Powar, isn't, but a good showing here would get the team management thinking.
One member of that group, Dilip Vengsarkar, the former Indian captain who's currently chairman of selectors, arrived here on Tuesday. India's batsmen would do well to pick his brains on adapting to conditions at Lord's, considering that he managed the unprecedented feat of three successive hundreds at the hallowed ground.
They'll be up against an attack that includes two beanpoles - Stuart Broad and Chris Tremlett - one lively medium-pacer, Graham Onions, and one talented young legspinner, Adil Rashid. Captaining them will be Andrew Strauss, trying to get into form before the first Test after enduring a barren run since the start of last year's Ashes. The Indians will also be wary of Owais Shah, the talented middle-order batsman who made a fine fifty on debut at Mumbai last year, and Jonathan Trott, the South African-raised batsman who recently made his one-day debut.
Indians (probable) 1 Wasim Jaffer, 2 Dinesh Karthik, 3 VVS Laxman, 4 Sachin Tendulkar (capt), 5 Sourav Ganguly, 6 Yuvraj Singh, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 8 Ramesh Powar, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Sreesanth, 11 Ishant Sharma
England A (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Joe Denly, 3 Ravinder Bopara, 4 Owais Shah, 5 Jonathan Trott, 6 Tim Bresnan, 7 Tim Ambrose (wk), 8 Chris Tremlett, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Graham Onions, 11 Adil Rashid.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo