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July 18, 2007
Monty Panesar v Sachin Tendulkar
Tendulkar's pedigree against spin bowlers is unsurpassed - when Shane Warne was asked to rate the best three batsmen he'd come up against in his career, he memorably remarked: "First there's Tendulkar, then daylight, then Lara." And yet, at Nagpur last March, an incredulous Monty Panesar pinned his childhood hero lbw to secure his first Test wicket. "Once in a blue moon, mate, never again," Tendulkar later wrote on the ball that is now Panesar's most treasured possession. The success or failure of that claim could go a long way to deciding the series.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni v Matt Prior
Two up-and-coming batsmen-wicketkeepers who love to hit the ball a long, long way. Dhoni began life as Manchester United-loving goalkeeper; Prior as an out-and-out strokemaker who took up the gloves as an afterthought. Their relative merits behind the stumps remain to be fully assessed, although Prior did acquit himself well against some wayward fare in the West Indies Tests. Their real value lies in the depth they provide at No. 7. Runs, and a lot of them, are going to be the key to this series.
Matthew Hoggard v Rahul Dravid
This duel may already have a first-round winner, after Hoggard's back spasm left him an "extremely doubtful" starter at Lord's. It would be a great pity if that's how the contest was to finish, for Hoggard's record against India is second-to-none. He was immense in the stifling heat of Nagpur, finding movement on a lifeless track to take six wickets in the first innings, and he is twice the bowler he was in 2002, when he still picked 11 wickets in the first three innings of the series. Dravid has fallen to him on five previous occasions - his vulnerability to early swing is one of the few chinks in the Wall's armoury.
Anil Kumble v Kevin Pietersen
Pietersen likes to treat spinners with contempt. His blood-and-thunder duels with Warne have been compulsive viewing in recent months, while his reverse-swept six off Muralitharan was the stand-out shot of last summer. And now it's the turn of Kumble. He has been around more blocks than either of those two champions - this is his fourth visit to England since debuting at Old Trafford in 1990. His waspish pace through the air and unstinting accuracy propel him almost to the category of medium-pacer - and Pietersen's none too forgiving of that breed either. But Kumble got his man twice in the subcontinent two winters ago, and India remain the only team against whom Pietersen has failed to score a century.
Zaheer Khan v Alastair Cook
The old stager versus the young gun. Zaheer has reinvigorated his career after a fallow three years, and in South Africa last December his darting late movement accounted for another precocious left-handed opener, Graeme Smith, six times in the series (four times in ODIs and twice in Tests). Cook, like Smith, knows his game and his limitations as well as any rookie batsmen in the history of the game - both men managed to record six Test hundreds before the age of 23. For Cook, India brings special memories after his debut century at Nagpur, but this time around the expectations have increased exponentially.
A look at some of cricket's most memorable strokes - and their makers