Geoffrey Boycott believes England are ready for the challenge of taking on India, the world's No. 1 Test team, who arrive in the country next month for the start of a four-Test series. Speaking to ESPNcricinfo after the third Test against Sri Lanka had finished as a draw, Boycott said the form of captain Andrew Strauss was the only major concern in a side that was otherwise brimful of confidence, and added the height, pace and accuracy of Chris Tremlett was sure to provide India's batsmen with a formidable challenge.
"I think we're ready for India," Boycott said. "England are in a good position. Everyone but Strauss is playing well, so unless we get serious injuries, we're ready. Strauss's place is not in jeopardy. He's the captain, and he's got a terrific record. But he needs to get runs in the middle because he didn't get any against Sri Lanka."
Strauss finished the series with a meagre tally of 27 runs in four innings, and after the match it was announced he would finetune his preparations by playing for Somerset during India's practice match in Taunton, starting July 15. "Strauss has a problem against left-arm seamers, so Zaheer Khan will enjoy that," said Boycott. "He needs to face a lot of left-arm seamers in the nets and get used to the angle. Right-arm bowlers coming round the wicket is a different thing altogether."
In general terms, however, England could hardly wish to be in a better frame of mind going in to one of the most anticipated Test series in recent years. Every other member of England's top seven is playing at or near the top of their game; Ian Bell confirmed his coming-of-age with two centuries in three Tests against Sri Lanka, and Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott picked upfrom where they left off in the Ashes with 557 runs in the series between them.
"Cook is playing out of his skin, Bell is playing out of his skin, Trott's playing well too, and Kevin Pietersen played a fantastic innings of 85," said Boycott. "It was the best he's played for a long time, better than his double-hundred in Adelaide, because 75% of runs were scored in the V between mid-off and mid-on. His judgment of line and length, and his defensive technique were spot on, and the only way he got out, in my opinion, was a little bit of ego. He wanted a hundred before the close, and flashed at a wide one."
However, the player who really captured the imagination against Sri Lanka was the Man of the Series, Tremlett, whose formidable 6'8" frame posed unique problems in each of the three Tests. He finished with 15 wickets at 23.40, and also forced Sri Lanka's captain Tillakaratne Dilshan to miss the final match with a broken right thumb. Afterwards, Boycott said his methods were reminiscent of three of the greats of the game.
"There's Ambrose, Joel Garner and Glenn McGrath," he said. "When you get tall men who bowl just short of a length, it becomes very difficult to get over the top of the ball. When you're batting, you want to be defending with the bat at 45 degrees, so that the ball hits and goes down. When it gets up too high but it's not a bouncer length, you can't just duck and weave because you've nowhere left to go. It's then that your fingers get trapped, the ball can go to slip or gully, and it causes innumerable problems."
After coming on as first-change in Sri Lanka's first innings, Tremlett was promoted to the new ball at the expense of Stuart Broad, who had struggled for rhythm early on, but grew in confidence as the game progressed. Boycott approved of the move, saying Tremlett and James Anderson, with their contrasting styles, were the logical pairing to lead the line against India.
England are in a good position. Everyone but Strauss is playing well, so unless we get serious injuries, we're ready.Geoff Boycott
"I've never thought of Stuart Broad as an opening bowler," said Boycott. "He doesn't move the ball enough and when he does swing it he does it from the arm, he doesn't swing it late like Jimmy Anderson, who goes down the pitch then swings. The earlier it swings, the easier it is to play with it, whichever way it's going.
"Stuart swings from the arm, and a lot of the time it doesn't swing at all, although he's got some pace," he added. "I think he needs to be a first-change seamer. If he can bowl line and length in the corridor of uncertainty on a fullish length, use the bouncer sparingly, wisely, and accurately, he can do a very good job for England, because he can bat a bit as well. He's a bit of an allrounder, but he's not an opening bowler."
Despite his confidence in their abilities, Boycott was critical of England's failure to close out the contest in spite of the weather. "England didn't win this game because of way they performed on the first day," he said. "They won the toss in great conditions and should have bowled Sri Lanka out for 80-100. To let them get 184 meant wasted runs and wasted time, because they'd have had three extra hours to bowl before the rain, and Sri Lanka would have been much more down. It was pretty ordinary on a great bowling pitch."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo