India v England, 1st Test, Chennai December 10, 2008

Cricket back in the spotlight

Match facts

December 11-15, 2008
Start time 9.30am (0400 GMT)

Big Picture

When the players take the field they will have to focus on the cricket © AFP
It's time for cricket. After all that has transpired since the terror strikes in Mumbai, the game now takes centre stage. Weather permitting , one of the most significant Tests in recent memory is about to be played - with plenty at stake.

India go into this match after beating the No. 1 side in the world. Their pace bowling is in the best health witnessed for decades, the openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have put together 50-plus stands in seven of their last eight innings, and in Mahendra Singh Dhoni India have a street-smart, innovative leader. Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra played a critical role in Australia's two defeats, and with spin accounting for 62% of England's wickets in India since 2001, they will aim to apply pressure.

Also on offer is a chance to move back to No.2 in the ICC's Test rankings, a position India briefly enjoyed after the 2-0 home series victory against Australia. Even a 1-0 series win will suffice for India, currently at third.

By going in with five bowlers, England have stated their intent - they are here to win. A 2-0 series win would help them overtake Sri Lanka to the fourth slot in the standings. An in-form Owais Shah, who scored 236 runs in four ODIs, has been sacrificed for the offspinner Graeme Swann, who will make his debut. England's pace attack was carted around during the ODIs but England's bowling assumes a different threat, aided by field placing, in the traditional form of the game. This Test will present physical and procedural challenges for England's attack and how it acclimatises to conditions against an in-form Indian batting line-up could be decisive. Bar the openers, the Test side is almost the same as the ODI side, which got in five games in local conditions; Kevin Pietersen scored a hundred. Matt Prior will take over the gloves for his first Test since December 2007.

Even though few are giving them a chance, there are key England players who have done well in India. Paul Collingwood seemed destined to be a bits-and-pieces player till his brilliant maiden Test century in Nagpur in 2006, in the middle of an injury crisis. In that same Test, Alastair Cook, 21 at the time, flew halfway round the world and was thrown straight in to open the batting. He made 60 in the first innings, a maiden Test century in the second and has never looked back. Andrew Flintoff, who had reservations returning to India, inspired his side to that series-levelling win in Mumbai, one in which James Anderson's back-from-the-wilderness six wickets were crucial. And it was in India that a turbaned, softly spoken Bedfordshire spinner captured the imagination - and later gathered iconic status - with the wickets of Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammad Kaif and Rahul Dravid on debut.

All the top-level security, the scathing and praising columns, the excessive television coverage, will have to take a back seat when the 22 players step onto the field. England's decision to resume the tour has been widely applauded, turning this into a Test that will throw up no loser.

Form guide (last 5 Tests, most recent last)

England WDLLW

Watch out for

He's had a difficult job since a deplorable ODI series - which, at 0-5, was headed for worse - was prematurely called off and there's no ignoring Kevin Pietersen's role in rallying his troops for this series. England's captain has shown admirable leadership in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks and now comes the time to deliver on the field. A Test hundred in India proved elusive on his only tour in 2006, and while Pietersen may feel his biggest test has been dealt with, his success in the middle will always be key to the team's success.

Just 13 Tests old, Ishant Sharma has lived as many years as his Indian team-mate Sachin Tendulkar has played international cricket. Ishant, 20, was Man of the Series against Australia recently with 17 wickets, almost all captured on unhelpful surfaces. He has come on in leaps and bounds, literally, and his performances in Tests have been notable for the accuracy of his deliveries and the bounce he generates. Able to swing the ball both ways like his new-ball partner Zaheer Khan, Ishant poses a serious threat to England's batsmen.

While he's been the mainstay of India's one-day side for a while, Yuvraj Singh has had an inconsistent run in Test cricket, having played just 23 matches for 1050 runs since his debut five years ago. However, the 26-year-old has once again been given a chance to translate his limited-overs success into Test cricket. Yuvraj made two consecutive match-winning hundreds (138* and 118) against England in the first two ODIs of the truncated seven-match series, and also picked up a four-wicket haul, and earned a call-up after Sourav Ganguly retired. Yuvraj has said if he gets a chance here, he won't let it go. As India step into a new era, those words will need to count once and for all.

James Anderson, England's second-highest wicket-taker this year, has already made a mark in India, capturing six wickets at 13.16 in one Test. Anderson has particularly troubled Tendulkar, dismissing him on four occasions at an average of 19.50, and Dravid, who has fallen to him three times, averaging 17.33. Dravid is out of form, a fact Anderson may well look to exploit.

Team news

Gambhir returns after a one-Test ban to accompany a red-hot Sehwag at the top, displacing M Vijay. Yuvraj will slip into Ganguly's spot in the middle order. Apart from that India's team will be the same from the one that beat Australia by 172 runs in Nagpur exactly a month ago.

India : (probable) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 VVS Laxman, 6 Yuvraj Singh, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Amit Mishra.

Perhaps refreshingly, and in an odd throwback to the early 90s, England are not weighed down by expectation given all that has happened recently. But the opportunities given to Swann and Prior are massive. Swann played a key role in England's one-day series win in Sri Lanka last year, taking seven wickets in four matches, but failed to cement his place since. The horrors of Sri Lanka behind him, the new, grown-up Prior - who finished with 931 runs at 51.72 in the County Championship - has achieved his goal of making the Test side again. He will replace Tim Ambrose, for whom runs dried up this summer.

England: 1 Andrew Strauss, 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Ian Bell, 4 Kevin Pietersen (capt), Paul Collingwood, 6 Andrew Flintoff, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Graeme Swann, 9 James Anderson, 10 Steve Harmison, 11 Monty Panesar

Pitch and conditions

Players from both teams were forced back to the dressing room on Tuesday after a nets session at the MA Chidambaram Stadium was cut short due to rain. Tamil Nadu, a coastal state in south-east India, is not unaccustomed to monsoon and cyclonic weather patterns at this time of the year. Intermittent heavy rains left the outfield slushy and more rain has been predicted in the hours leading up to game day. There is a strong chance that the cricket will be affected.

Stats and Trivia

  • Sehwag, India's leading run-getter this year, averages 32.15 in nine Tests against England, and just 25.85 in five games against the same team at home.
  • Tendulkar needs six more runs to get to 2000 Test runs against England. Only Sunil Gavaskar has achieved that.
  • Anderson has taken 20 wickets in four Tests against India, 14 of those comprising the top five batsmen.
  • England have relied heavily on pace in India - 68% of Indian wickets against England in India have been captured by fast bowlers since 2001.
  • England's Test record in India reads - 11 won, 13 lost and 25 drawn.


"You could say we can't lose in this situation, but that's also a way of looking at things negatively. There is to be no nonsense said about what has happened. I told the boys this morning that it's a case of coming to this Test match series like it would be in England."
Kevin Pietersen is not interested in excuses expects his teammates to ignore all distractions

"Every series is important, be it against Bangladesh or a low team. It is an international series. It goes into your records."
Dhoni tries to keep it as simple as possible, against the backdrop of the last couple weeks

Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo