'I wouldn't play Anderson even if fit' - Ganguly
England have tried everything within their means to get their most successful Test bowler ever fit in time for a major part of the series in India, but former India captain Sourav Ganguly wouldn't pick James Anderson in the playing XI even if he was available for selection.
"I wouldn't play him [Anderson] in India to be honest," said Ganguly, who will be part of ESPNcricinfo Match Day, the analysis show that will be aired both on ESPNcricinfo and on the SONYESPN channel on every day of the five-Test series.
"It's not the same Anderson as 2012," Ganguly said. "I saw him in the Test series in England recently. He has lost a bit of pace. And I think Stuart Broad and Steven Finn and Ben Stokes [will be more effective] because you will need a bit of pace in these conditions to get that ball to reverse. So I don't know whether he will make the side when he comes back. Not in Vizag [Visakhapatnam] where the ball will turn square."
In a recent ODI in Visakhapatnam, legspinner Amit Mishra took five wickets to bowl New Zealand out for 79, which is a sign of the conditions that England can expect in the second Test. If everything goes right with Anderson's rehab - he has not bowled since August because of a shoulder injury - he could be fit in time for that Test. However, Ganguly feels Anderson shouldn't play the rest of the series either.
"I don't see him playing in the second Test," Ganguly said. "And if I were the England captain, I would go in with two fast bowlers: [Stuart] Broad and Ben Stokes [along with Chris Woakes]. A bit of zip, a bit of pace, reverse. And play three spinners. Moeen Ali, Gareth Batty and another spinner. The advantage is, Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes can get runs with the bat. It makes the batting a lot longer, and you still have three spinners for these conditions. That's the way I will go, and I don't think Jimmy Anderson bowling at 80 miles an hour will find a place in my side."
Doubts about Anderson's fitness, in light of his integral role in the 2012 series, is part of a larger reason why Ganguly doesn't expect England to win a Test in the five-match series. He knows England have a good record against India, and that they won the last series in India, but the teams have changed a lot since then, he said.
"They have a great record in India to be honest," Ganguly said. "In 2006 when they came it was 1-1, when they won in Mumbai. In 2012 they won the series 2-1. India going to England and losing 4-0 and then 3-1. So England have got a great record against India but whether this England team can get past India in a five-Test series, I am not sure. Because when you look at the side that played in 2012, the most important part was those two spinners: Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann. Both high-quality spinners, and both match-winners. And Jimmy Anderson at his best. The Jimmy Anderson of four years ago."
Also the India team wears a completely different look. "When they caught India in 2012, it was a side that had lost 4-0 in Australia," Ganguly said. "A side whose confidence was pretty down. It was battered overseas for a long period of time. But England are now facing a side that is high on confidence. New captain. Results have come the team's way. It's going to be very, very tough for England. That's what I believe. But in sport, anything can happen."
For anything to happen, it won't be just any old thing, it will have to be "magical" if England are to compete. "England will have to play very, very well to get past India in this series," Ganguly said. "Not just play very, very well, do something absolutely magical. Like Alastair Cook did last time in 2012. Three back-to-back Test hundreds. Kevin Pietersen played that unbelievable knock in Mumbai. Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott getting hundreds. Somebody or the other stood up for them. Whether they have that same quality in batting, I am not too sure."
As with the last series, Cook will have to set the tone. "He has had success in India so he will be confident when he comes to that series," Ganguly said. "I thought he played well in Bangladesh on those tough pitches but he has got to fire. He has got to stand up for his team. Lead from the front. And people need to support him. The likes of Joe Root, who I think is an outstanding player. Ben Stokes, who I think will have a huge role in this series. These three have to fire for England consistently if they have to have some chance in the series."
The three superstars won't be enough. Moeen Ali, who did well against India in England in 2014, will have to be at his best too. "He is definitely a threat for India," Ganguly said. "The wickets will spin. His confidence against India will be high as a bowler. He has definitely become a better batsman than since that trip of 2014 when he was peppered with short deliveries from Ishant Sharma and the Indian bowlers. He has definitely become a better cricketer than then. He will be tested. He needs to get runs and get wickets as well, but do they have a Graeme Swann or Monty Panesar? I don't think so."
The one advantage England have is they are not turning up blind. They played Test cricket in some testing conditions in Bangladesh just before this trip. It was so testing they didn't even feel the need for a warm-up game in India. Ganguly doesn't expect the conditions in India to be as extreme as Bangladesh, but sees it as good preparation for England.
"Those wickets to be honest were absolute minefields," Ganguly said. "Although the series was drawn 1-1, it can't get worse than that for them in terms of the surface. And I saw the pitch in the last Test. It spun from everywhere. You just had to put the ball in the right place, and it did everything. In India they are going to encounter better pitches. That sort of pitch will be on day five of the Test. But when I saw the ball land on the first day of the Test in Bangladesh, it was actually like a day-five pitch.
"They [England] haven't played well in Bangladesh, but it will get them used to the conditions. I firmly believe when teams from the subcontinent go away or when it is the other way around, it is about getting used to the conditions as quickly as possible. I think it is going to help them in that aspect, but I still maintain [doubts] that whether they have that spark in this side to beat India in this series."
Ganguly will be joined on ESPNcricinfo Match Day by Nick Compton and Jonathan Trott, who were both part of the series-winning England team to India in 2012-13 in which Anderson played an important role.
ESPNcricinfo Match Day will air in India at 10pm on SONY ESPN and SONY ESPN HD during the Tests. ESPN has a long-term collaboration with Sony Pictures Networks in India and the subcontinent.