Blackwell upbeat about his chances
Ian Blackwell, the England spinner, believes intelligence and adaptability will be the crucial ingredients for success against India.
"Yeah, it's going to be a challenging tour. Touring India is always tough but it can be a worthwhile experience, I've been told," Blackwell said at a press conference in Mumbai. The England team arrived here yesterday for a three-Test and seven one-day international series.
"Indians are great players of spin, we all know what their batsmen are capable of, and its going to be a case of assessing the wicket. It's definitely going to be a case of using your brain and actually using the conditions to suit my style of bowling or others bowling at the time. I'm looking forward to seeing what I can do."
A year ago, Blackwell, 27, was being discussed as a one-day specialist batsman. Today, sitting in Mumbai, he finds himself a replacement for the injured Ashley Giles and up against Shaun Udal, who played in Pakistan recently, and Northamptonshire's Monty Panesar, the uncapped left-arm spinner.
Michael Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher have indicated that two spinners might be the order of the day if, as anticipated, India serve up dustbowls tailor-made for the slow bowlers. A three-wicket burst in the final one-dayer at Rawalpindi last December showed what Blackwell is capable of, but to bowl long spells in a Test match - in India, no less - has been known to test the best of bowlers. And Blackwell remains aware of this. "It's going to be a challenge bowling in conditions suited for bowlers like Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble," he said. "You have to look to be at your physical peak. It's something England are very keen to improve on."
For a cricketer who has yet to take 25 wickets in a county season, Blackwell looks the least qualified of the three slow bowlers, but remained upbeat of his chances of making the final XI while summing up the competition. "I think Shaun Udal is almost in the role of Ashley Giles, as a bowler who can bat. He's a stock bowler who can offer a few runs," he said.
"And again, Monty [Panesar] is probably the better bowler out of the three of us. He's an attacking left-arm spinner. Playing at Northants he's going to generate a lot of opportunities to get wickets, so that probably goes for him. But again, I would like to think that I could do a good job with the ball but also possibly score a lot of runs as well. I guess it comes down to how many fast bowlers are playing and what the make-up of the England team will be."
For a man whose first wicket was a certain Steve Waugh, Blackwell's aspirations of becoming a leading England spinner have taken concrete shape. After making his county debut with Derbyshire, Blackwell moved to Somerset in 2000 and was named captain last season. It was an additional responsibility that toughened him as a cricketer, he said. "Definitely the Somerset captaincy has given me a broader mind. When you captain 11 players, you're not just looking after your own game, it's making you think about situations, gameplans, what bowlers to utilise when. It's something I really enjoyed doing, even though it was quite tough at times. It's made me a more rounded person."
Reminded of Giles's legstump tactics towards Sachin Tendulkar the last time England were here, Blackwell refused to see this as negative bowling. "It depends on the situation of the game. If the bowler is trying to hit a mark outside of leg stump to try and get a wicket, then I don't think that is negative," he said. "It's an art in itself to aim at a six-inch square and I guess it all depends on the situation. If a side is 180 for 1 then it might be deemed as a negative, but I think you have to assess that and toss the ball over the wicket. It's a strategy, really."
England begin their tour with a three-day warm-up match against a Board President's XI in Mumbai on Febrauary 18 before travelling to Baroda for a similar clash. The first Test begins at Nagpur on March 1.
Jamie Alter is editorial assistant of Cricinfo