England aim to scale final frontier
While India and South Africa fought for the No.1 ranking in Kolkata, another No. 1 side - with no threats to its position - slipped into the country for a series comprising five ODIs and three Twenty20s as preparation for the World Twenty20 in May. Unlike South Africa, who have been successful in India, this team considers the country a final frontier of sorts.
The England women are world champions in ODIs and Twenty20 as well as Ashes winners. Over the last two years they have beaten New Zealand and Australia in their backyards and a resurgent West Indies in the Caribbean. But they are yet to win in India. The last time they were here, for the Quadrangular Series in 2007, they sneaked in at third place despite having fewer wins than fourth-placed India.
But things have changed since then, as captain Charlotte Edwards said. "A lot has happened over the three years. We are a much more confident team but we are not going to take it for granted. We have got a young team out here and are desperate to do well."
Ten players from that squad make the trip this time but their overall attitude towards touring has changed. Last year the England board sent 10 players to India to prepare for the World Cup in Australia. England opener Claire Taylor, who was part of the camp but is missing from the current squad, has said the Quadrangular performance forced the team to introspect and work hard to turn things around. Now England are one of the fittest teams in the circuit and of course the confidence accruing from two world titles - secured in a space of three months - cannot be underestimated.
India, on the other hand, are coming off a long layoff. They have not played any international matches since the World Twenty20 in England last June and are banking on their domestic form going into the series. The selectors have brought back offspinner Nooshin Al Khadeer, dropped for the two World Cups, and left-arm spinner Preeti Dimri for the first two ODIs. India last won a series in 2008 - the Asia Cup - where their opponents were all minnows of the subcontinent.
So the series is evenly poised: India, a team that is struggling to click but has home advantage, against a dominant England side out to improve its record in India. Where India have the edge, according to captain Jhulan Goswami, is its strength in spin. "This is the end of the season in India so all the wickets will be slow. Spinners will definitely play a major role in the series," she said. For England, a loss in the series may not pose as many questions as it will for India ahead of the World Twenty20. India will not only have to reconsider their selections, but also rethink their fitness levels and the number of matches they play in a season.
Players to watch
Legspinner Priyanka Roy was the first player to take a five-wicket haul in the World Twenty20 - shortly before Umar Gul took five on the same day. She also took 12 wickets in seven matches at the 50-over World Cup last year and at 21 is an exciting prospect for India.
Mithali Raj averages 40.17 from 33 matches against England. Six of her eight half-centuries against side have come between 2006 and 2009, a period in which she averaged 57.11 in 14 ODIs against the side.
England's opening batsman and wicketkeeper Sarah Taylor kicked off the tour with a half-century in the warm-up game. She also got her maiden ODI century in India during the Quadrangular Series. England will hope she can make up for the absence of Claire Taylor at the top of the order.
Captain Charlotte Edwards will be interesting to watch not only for her on-field decisions but also for her performance as an opener. She said the plan was to have her open while keeping the run-scorers in the middle order to "to play when the ball gets soft and run the opposition ragged".
Nishi Narayanan is a staff writer at Cricinfo