July 15, 2011

A series worth the wait

England v India is compelling enough without the added attraction of the battle for No. 1

As India slip unnoticed into a footballing nation, there is little of the frenzy that is thrust onto cricket back home. That could change, as a full house at Lord's appears on the horizon, but India won't mind that. They have a few things to work on and top of that list would be to give the openers time to get used to the conditions, allow two key players, Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan, to get some match play behind them, and hope Sreesanth finds early form. There are four Test matches but a good start is like holding serve, a bad one like being broken early in the first set; it makes you play catch up.

There is, too, I notice, the prospect of holding on to, or earning, depending on which side you support, the No. 1 slot in Test cricket. But the top spot can be a dream or a target; it cannot occupy your mind, it must happen as a consequence of good cricket, and both teams are capable of producing that. The contest is compelling enough; it doesn't need that context just yet.

England are better than they have been at most times in the last 20 years (I know 2005 happened, and it was brilliant for English cricket, but it was erased far too quickly) because they have many solid, quiet achievers. True, there is the hyped Kevin Pietersen (hyped with good reason occasionally, for he remains, potentially, England's best player of this generation) but there is also the understated Alastair Cook, with an outstanding Test record. For the golden boy Ian Bell, there is the seriously solid Jonathan Trott. Indeed, Trott, Eoin Morgan, Graeme Swann and Chris Tremlett have been outstanding recent selections, proving that when the back room plays for the country it makes it easier for the men on the field to do so.

By slipping past the fancy headlines and stylish adjectives, Trott could well become England's Dravid. He occupies a key batting position and he does it quietly and efficiently, and indeed, that is going to be a very interesting comparison as the series gathers momentum. An emerging champion - and I only say "emerging" because he is relatively young in international cricket - up against one of the very best, who is currently putting up a hand and telling his sunset to return later.

That is true of India's middle order as a whole, actually, the power of their ability holding back the inevitability of the passage of time. But they will be tested here, for Anderson, Tremlett, Swann and either of Bresnan, Finn or Broad will keep them on their toes. That contest is one of the many reasons why I cannot wait for this series to begin.

But those three, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman, in spite of 35,000 Test runs between them would be ideally served if the two left-handers above them see off the new ball. Very few tough contests are won without sterling contributions from the openers, and it is there that England must sense an opportunity. Gautam Gambhir is a seriously good cricketer but he hasn't played in England before, and Mukund, who got a very good review from Ian Bishop, is callow and uncertain. They must expect a lot of bounce coming their way. Gambhir has spoken of how Sehwag's presence takes the pressure off him, and now he must, in his own style, bring calm to a dressing room.

India must also choose between Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh. Raina has emerged more solid from the West Indies and is match-fit. Much as Yuvraj's flowing style is beautiful to watch, Raina has shown that there is steel within him and he has made it very difficult for the selectors to leave him out. India will demand much of him, and a bit more from Dhoni at No. 7. Only occasionally, I get the feeling that Dhoni doesn't allow himself to be the batsman he can be at Test cricket. Good teams win matches from 200 for 5, and for India to do that Dhoni must stand up and remind himself more often of how good he can be.

Four Test matches is fitting for a series as potentially exciting as this. Five might have been even better, especially if it was followed, at some point, by five in India. And as happens so often, the side that bowls better will win. Anderson v Zaheer, Tremlett v Ishant. Broad or Bresnan v Sreesanth and Swann v Harbhajan. Ah, that last one is a treat in itself.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jack on July 18, 2011, 23:23 GMT

    England 3-0.

    Don't really see India capable of winning a single match.

  • Kall on July 18, 2011, 10:24 GMT

    I am surprised that no one is talking about the bowlers! Guys, whether the batsmen score 700 runs or 70, they cannot win the match. On the other hand, despite what the batsmen score, the bowlers, if they take 20 wickets within the score, can win the match. Does India have the firepower to bowl England out twice?

  • Gowhar on July 18, 2011, 8:43 GMT

    Why it's important for India to win a test series in England, Aus or Saf, for that matter, is because of the fact that in these countries we witness the real contest between bat and ball, unlike in the sub-continent, where mountains of runs are piled, centuries & double tons followed by triple, day in and day out. Ind, Pak and countries like Slk prefer preparing pitches that favor spin, not genuine fast and swing bowling. Pitches in the sub-continent become almost unplayable & unfit for fair play after the second or last sessions of day four in a test match, which is not the case in Eng, Aus & Saf. That is why it's important for Ind to win in these countries to prove to themselves first that they can beat any side in the world in any conditions, howsoever testing or challenging; & then prove to the world as well that they deserve a world No.1 tag, otherwise the blot will remain: Lions at home are goats outside!

  • Dummy4 on July 17, 2011, 22:49 GMT

    Can someone please.. please.. give me 1... just 1 logical reason why India needs to win in England to prove that they are no. 1 and England do not need to win in subcontinent to prove that they are no. 1? Anyone? Is it because England can never win in subcontinental pitches? Or is it because real cricket is only played in England and Aus? Rest of the places just make up the numbers?

  • Zainu on July 17, 2011, 11:03 GMT

    Yuvraj and Raina, both should be selected for the 1st two matches.... And, Yuvraj should be made to open the innings in absence of Sehwag.... Yuvi can become a good partner with Gautam Gambhi....

  • Johnathon on July 17, 2011, 2:25 GMT

    This series will tell who is the actual No. 1 test team in the world. I do not go by the ranking system since India have played way too many games at home, and also toured Bangladesh right after they got the standing. A depleted and No. 7 ranked West Indies team gave the No. 1 Indian side a run for their money and in South Africa, there was a draw, a massive innings win, and a South African choke in which 4 (or was it 5) wickets came tumbling down in quick succession. When India became the No. 1 side, they recently had toured Sri Lanka and had a 1-1 series. When Sri Lanka toured India, it was a 2-0 in favor of the Indians. That does not seem consistent and one can only wonder about India abroad. Well, this series will be the test of it all, and I am gonna watch every ball. Who said test cricket is dying.

  • Mark on July 17, 2011, 0:01 GMT

    Good article Mr Bhogle. Australia has fallen off the radar screen. Which leaves top spot up for grabs. Personally I think there is a enough class in India's batting for them to take the test series. But England has a good bowling attack in their own conditions could be interesting. Tendulkar may well be the difference between the two sides.

  • Turhan on July 16, 2011, 19:38 GMT

    Being a neutral, i believe that England has a great chance of taking away the series. To be honest, Indians can only play well in their pitches and under their crowd. England are the very best in their pitches when the ball in swinging. That is when its ballers like Anderson and company gets extremely dangerous and unplayable.

    I hope we get to see a clean and noncontroversial series.

  • P on July 16, 2011, 19:01 GMT

    Can't make any predictions for this series. Both teams are pretty good, although I believe that England may have an edge. While Indian batting line up is solid, I think some batsmen (Dravid, Yuvi) look good on paper and are not all that reliable as a test batsman should be. It would be interesting to see. I have high hopes from Indian bowlers like Ishant and P. Kumar.

  • Varnendra on July 16, 2011, 17:45 GMT

    India always disappoints when they go on tours; they don't go all out to win from the first ball which is important; they languish and perform poorly in the initial stages; then the nation get impatient; pressure builds up; then only the they pull up the socks and go for it; remember the last SA tour? South Africans were so disappointed with the way India played the first test; South Africans lost interest and didn't play well thereafter; India came back boasting on drawing the series. Now they have started the English tour the same way too; see how they perform against Somerset! I heard it is house full there; again India has disappointed; it is important to take every game seriously; people pay money to watch you man.

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