Underdogs England bank on Anderson
A 5-0 drubbing in the abruptly terminated ODI series against India, a patchy record in Tests this year, and lack of sufficient practice means England will probably be short on confidence on their toughest assignment of 2008. Kevin Pietersen's ascension to captaincy did bring his team a consolation win in the final Test at The Oval after the series had already been lost, but India's comprehensive defeat of Australia gives the home team a clear advantage based on recent form.
All of England's other Test victories this year have come against a struggling New Zealand, but they'll take encouragement from some of their performances against India since 2001. India-England contests over the last seven years have produced more draws - including three in six games in India - than outright results. England put up a good fight in 2001, enjoying the better of two drawn contests in Ahmedabad and Bangalore after a 10-wicket defeat in Mohali. In their subsequent trip in 2006, they levelled the series with a mammoth 212-run win in Mumbai, and with eight members from that team in the squad for this tour, England will retain hope - despite all the scepticism around - of emulating that feat.
|Span||India win||England win||Drawn|
|In India since 2001||2||1||3|
India's batting line-up, with the notable exception of Rahul Dravid, came good against Australia, with seven players averaging over 40. But it has otherwise had a mixed year, with some of the batsmen struggling in the away series against Sri Lanka. Moreover, some of India's top performers this year have a fairly modest record against England at home, while Dravid, who's had a miserable run in his last two Test series, has the highest average among Indian batsmen against them both home and away. Virender Sehwag is India's leading run-getter this year, but he has a score to settle against England, versus whom he averages 32.15 in nine Tests, and just 25.85 in five games against them at home. VVS Laxman's home average of 28.75 against England is a far cry from his 1021 runs at 53.73 this year. Only Sachin Tendulkar's averages reflect some consistency - 47.73 in eleven Tests in 2008 and 48.75 in six home Tests against England since 2001.
|Batsman||in 2008 (Runs and Average)||vs Eng||vs Eng in India since 2001|
|Virender Sehwag||1353 at 61.50||418 at 32.15||181 at 25.85|
|VVS Laxman||1021 at 53.73||519 at 39.92||115 at 28.75|
|Sachin Tendulkar||907 at 47.73||1994 at 62.31||390 at 48.75|
|Rahul Dravid||662 at 30.09||1346 at 61.18||431 at 53.87|
|Mahendra Singh Dhoni||551 at 36.73||315 at 35||106 at 21.20|
For England, Alastair Cook, who made a century on debut in Nagpur in 2006, and Paul Collingwood, who scored an unbeaten 134 in the same Test, have done well in India. Andrew Strauss has one century to his name in six innings and averages 39.50 but Ian Bell, Andrew Flintoff, and Kevin Pietersen will be keen to better their record.
|Batsman||In 2008 (Runs and Average)||vs India||in India|
|Kevin Pietersen||866 at 50.94||561 at 46.75||216 at 36|
|Andrew Strauss||720 at 42.35||448 at 37.33||237 at 39.50|
|Allistair Cook||637 at 37.47||406 at 45.11||183 at 61|
|Ian Bell||627 at 41.80||321 at 26.75||131 at 21.83|
|Paul Collingwood||508 at 39.07||469 at 46.90||272 at 68|
|Andrew Flintoff||113 at 28.25||389 at 25.93||290 at 29|
England's fortunes in the upcoming series will depend heavily on the way they tackle India's spinners. Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra played a critical role in Australia's two defeats in the recent series, and with spin accounting for 62% of England's wickets in India since 2001, the visitors have their job cut out. Cook, Strauss and Collingwood have handled Harbhajan - India's leading wicket-taker this year with 55 in 11 Tests at 31.03 - pretty well, scoring 199 off him and losing just two wickets between them in the process. Bell and Pietersen have both been dismissed once by Harbhajan, while Flintoff has fallen to him twice. However, Harbhajan's home record against England is in need of improvement, and he'll be banking on his recent form to do just that: He's captured 193 wickets at 25.61 in India while his home average against England increases to 33.47.
While Ryan Sidebottom has taken the most wickets for England this year, his new-ball partner James Anderson, who's second in the list, has already made a mark in India, capturing six wickets at 13.16 in his team's win in Mumbai in 2006. He's taken 20 wickets in four Tests against India, 14 of those comprising the top five. He has particularly troubled Tendulkar, having dismissed him on four occasions at an average of 19.50, and Dravid, who has fallen to him thrice, averaging 17.33.
|Mahendra Singh Dhoni||58||1||58||3.48|
Anderson leads an inexperienced pace attack, as neither Stuart Broad nor Sidebottom have played a Test in India, while Flintoff has missed most of the year, playing just three Tests. For a team that has relied so heavily on pace in India - since 2001, 68% of Indian wickets against England in India have been captured by fast bowlers - the ease with which its attack adapts to new conditions against an in-form Indian batting line-up may well prove to be the key determinant of its performance this time.
The Chennai factor
The first Test in Chennai faces a threat of being interrupted by rain - not an aberration, as five of the 29 Tests at Chepauk, and two of the last three, have been rain-affected draws. However, there have been 17 outright results at the ground, ten of those going in favour of the side batting first. Teams winning the toss have opted to bat first on 28 out of 29 occasions.
India have enjoyed a good record at Chepauk, winning 11 Tests and losing six. They have lost just one Test in Chennai since 1985, against Pakistan by 12 runs in 1999. England have played seven Tests here, with a 3-3 win-loss record. None of the players in their current touring squad have played a Test at Chepauk.
Sehwag tops the averages for Indian batsmen at the ground, with 123.20, including a career-best 319 against South Africa in India's most recent Test at Chepauk earlier this year. Tendulkar is the highest run-getter at the venue in the current Indian batting line-up with 736 runs in eight Tests.
Siddhartha Talya is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo