July 17, 2011

Sehwag's absence will hurt India

Without him they will have to be cautious against England's swing bowlers. But even so the series, with its several mini-contests and the No. 1 ranking at stake, is expected to be a mouth-watering one

Occasionally fate serves up a delightful twist to an already irresistible contest. The Lord's Test in particular, and the India versus England series in general, is one such example.

Coincidentally the game at Lord's is the 2000th Test match, and it launches a series where the No. 1 ranking is on the line.

It appears that fate has come down ever so slightly in England's favour. The first two venues in this series, Lord's and Trent Bridge, are known to favour swing bowling. England's ability to swing both the new and old ball is a big reason behind their recent rise up the rankings. In addition, India are missing their greatest counterattacking weapon.

There's no batsman in the world who can disrupt bowling plans quicker than Virender Sehwag, and he'll be missing for at least the first two Tests. India could dispute that reasoning by saying that they played without Sehwag the last time as well, in 2007, and won at Trent Bridge to clinch the series.

They should have also won at The Oval but Rahul Dravid, in a surprisingly timid captaincy move, failed to enforce the follow-on. In the recent series in the Caribbean, MS Dhoni was accused of being similarly cautious in the final Test - for not attempting a difficult chase to try and extend India's victory to 2-0.

In both cases the Indian captain had a series lead and was disinclined to allow the opposition even a sliver of a chance to level. The counter to that argument is that a captain doesn't get too many chances to win Test matches, so he should grab every one and shake the life out of that opportunity.

The one time a captain should not be overly cautious is at the start of a series, when a team can take a huge step towards mental superiority by being aggressive. This is where Sehwag's absence hurts India; being at the top of the order, he's likely to gain the upper hand in the series just by batting normally in the first session.

Consequently India will have to rely more on a wearing-down process to subdue the England swing bowlers, rather than on Sehwag's bludgeoning tactics. On the bowling side, India's biggest plus from the Caribbean series was the much-awaited return to form of Ishant Sharma.

In a frank interview the young fast bowler said he had tried to copy his opening partner, Zaheer Khan, and this had brought problems. Having rectified that mistake he's now poised to form a lethal combination with Zaheer, who is the Indian bowler best equipped to utilise any swing on offer.

Zaheer has the added advantage of being the type of bowler who troubles England captain Andrew Strauss. If India can separate Strauss and Alastair Cook quickly, the England batting is vulnerable. Cook's consistent high-scoring was crucial in England retaining the Ashes against Australia.

England are also vulnerable against good spin bowling, and the best way to expose this flaw is to make early inroads. This frailty also presents India with a selection poser: do they pick two spinners or three seamers? If they choose three seamers, will they prefer Yuvraj Singh to Suresh Raina? Yuvraj's recent bowling renaissance in ODIs makes his selection enticing, as Kevin Pietersen has shown that left-arm orthodox spinners are his kryptonite.

However, India should pick the best batsman at No. 6, and also give serious consideration to playing Amit Mishra at some stage during the series. Given slightly helpful conditions the steady legspinner could expose the English batsmen's leaden-footed approach to playing tweakers.

In addition to the battles already mentioned there will be many other absorbing contests. Harbhajan Singh against England's two left-handed openers. Jimmy Anderson, the best swing bowler in the game when he's on song, will test India's ageing middle-order, never mind the less experienced opening combination.

And then there's Graeme Swann, a fine attacking offspinner operating against batsmen who are most comfortable playing spin. There's a lot to look forward to in this series even before the No. 1 ranking is decided.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 19, 2011, 22:28 GMT

    Indian batting looks formidable in sub continet conditions and timid in overseas conditions.the bowling is vice versa, so it is a inconsistent bowling attack versus a good allround side.I can see similarites between india and the aussie team which came a cropper in Ashes. the similarites are the indians do not have a settled bowling attack and they have a toss up between, ishant, munaf and sreeshanth. similar to the problems the aussies faced in playing harris, bollinger, johnson and siddle. indian batting is great on paper, i do nt recollect how many times 3-4 top order batsmenr have made an impact in conditions like england, SA, WI and Australlia. if anything has to be extrapolated from the recent windies tour, indians were tested by the west indian bowlers often on fast tracks and they managed to win the series becaise windies were windies.

  • arun on July 19, 2011, 18:40 GMT

    i dont know why you people dont count sreesanth as second best indian fast bowler if he is good form.dont forget that india have won in south africa twice mainly because of his bowling power

  • Gareth on July 19, 2011, 12:27 GMT

    jagat777 get your facts corrected, ST has scored just over half the number of runs (14692) that the England team have (29093), assuming England play the same 11 they did against SL.

  • JAGAT on July 19, 2011, 9:06 GMT

    Hey Alexk400 get your facts corrected, it's not sachin who contributes to losses it's that the team flops when tendulkar scores. We saw it even in WC agianst England and South Africa so don't go saying anything. Sachin has scored more runs than the whole english team combined. So it's either the bowlers who gave these many runs were bad or he definitly has your so called technique

  • Dummy4 on July 19, 2011, 8:13 GMT

    all know how important sehwag's presence is.no matter where he is plating,who is bowling,he just knows to hit the ball.the whole bretain eill miss sehwag's heat.

  • Pankaj on July 19, 2011, 7:39 GMT

    Not a great Chappel fan... but I really like this article from him. Very subdued, careful analysis, mostly speaking of strengths of both sides. I guess why most of us are being careful is agressive analysis is because this series could go either way. Recent Ind/SA was spoken a lot about. And I remember India/Aus was one of greatest series of all (when Ind won 2-1 afer losing the 1st). But this has to be the mother of all series. Would be a great series and I hope it lives up to the hype.

  • Magesh on July 19, 2011, 5:41 GMT

    India's best chance is to win the fourth test and second test. India should be happy if they could manage a draw on the remaining two tests, although very unliekly as they are played at Lords and Edgbaston. Lords test will end in 3 days in favor of England. Without sehwag and against the mighty english batting and bowling attacks, india will come cropper.

  • Dummy4 on July 19, 2011, 4:26 GMT

    Ian, you are so right once again. India without Sehwag would find it difficult to beat England - he is the No.2 match winner for them - Laxman is No.1, usually ably assisted by Dravid. Hence, with Sehwag out, if any of their winning faithfuls in Laxman or Dravid is out of form, they can lose to England. I think that Tremlet is going to be more than a handful for the rest of the batting. As you have been rightly postulating over time, Tendulkar has achieved enough that he must be reckoned at all times, but not when the assessment is based on the winning cards of the team. As far as the bowling is concerned, Zaheer would have to do as well as he did the last time. If Sharma is really back to form, this series will prove it. If this is so, it improves india chances. I swould have taken Rohit Sharma instead of Mukund to open the batting, because I think after Dravid and Laxman, he is the best player of quick bowling in India. He is just unfortunate not not be given more chances.

  • Dummy4 on July 19, 2011, 4:12 GMT

    @ sunildjoshi, lol... raina already sealed middle order spot, who will open the batting?? yuvi??!!, stunning views from u dude...

  • Akshay on July 19, 2011, 2:56 GMT

    My XI for the Lord's test will be Gambhir;Mukund;Dravid;Sachin;Laxman;Raina;Dhoni;Harbhajan;Praveen;Zaheer; Ishant Raina has improved his technique by leaps and bounds and he has dealt with the bouncer extremely well.And also because of his recent form in the West Indies and in the warm up match against Somerset he must be picked ahead of Yuvraj.

    Sehwag will be surely missed.The way he sets up his innings can turn the match around even in the first session of the test match.As Mr.Ian Chappel said he can disrupt any opposition bowler's rhythm in a matter of few balls.

    The bowling lineup looks good with likes of Zak, Ishant and Praveen. Praveen esp with his wristy action will be able to exploit the english conditions better.

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