Series preview: England vs India
By this time tomorrow, the first Test will be afoot at Lord’s. If you’ve fallen into the hype-moat surrounding this series (who hasn’t, really, except for one or two continents), then surely you must believe that this will be the best, most competitive Test series since the legendary West Indies v India saga of 2011.
There’s every reason to lock yourself up with a TV, laptop, carbs in any form, and another TV (for weather reports): the #1 ranking at stake, Sachin’s 100th 100 (possibly first at Lord’s) followed by 10,000 (give or take 17) articles about his career, WAGs in the stands, and two most enticing matchups:
1) Pie-chucker meets Pie-lover
|They’re from different backgrounds, literally|
2) Man with a sweet tooth
|He’d trade a cow for those beans to know what the beanstalk would look like|
Anyway, playtime’s over. Time to move on the technical stuff. The real nitty-gritty. Squeaky bum time. Release the kraken. Right.
India’s practice game may have suffered at the hands of rain and Somersetian (Somerian? Somartian?) batsmen, but it actually answered pretty much all the questions related to selection and form. If you accept that you really shouldn’t be asking about Dravid, Sachin or Laxman at this point, it’s all good. Gambhir and Mukund got runs on the board in their unbeaten second-innings partnership, Raina cemented his place in the best way possible, Sreesanth bowled himself out of contention.
India doesn’t have to face Willoughby and Thomas, however; England’s pace attack is far superior and much improved since the last time the two teams met. Having said that, India’s batsmen already have one start-of-tour batting collapse out of the way, and there won’t be too many gifts from them, not even with a Sehwag-sized crater at the top of the order. Based on what I’ve seen, Mukund is a nervous starter, but once he’s in he looks very assured. (Trivia: When was the last time India had two lefties open?)
India’s bowling, like on the last English tour, looks like it could use the conditions well – Zaheer Khan is the best left-arm quick in the world at the moment, and Praveen Kumar can get prodigious swing with the new ball. Ishant Sharma just needs to bowl the way he was doing a couple of weeks ago. Harbhajan might fancy himself if he gets bouncy pitches, but this England side won’t be as vulnerable to spin as it used to be, especially when they have the luxury of Swann bowling to them in the nets.
Probable XI: Gambhir, Mukund, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Raina, Dhoni (c)(wk), Harbhajan, P. Kumar, Zaheer, Ishant.
England have a superb chance to get an early lead in the series with Sehwag out. Their batsmen have been accumulating runs for a while – Cook, Trott, KP and Bell filled their boots against a toothless Lankan attack. Strauss made merry in the practice game and Prior is in good domestic form, but it won’t be as easy against India. Complacency, and a lack of recent quality opposition could get in their way.
Their bowling, however, is in great shape. Jimmy “Jimmy”Anderson and Chris “freakystringbean” Tremlett will cause plenty of problems when on song. Put either under pressure, though, and… well, we’ll see when Sehwag’s back. Broad will be eager (and under severe, debilitating, acne-inducing pressure) to pick up wickets and stop his Test career from following his ODI career with running shoes on (What?). And Swann’s there too. See what I did there? I don’t.
Probable XI: Strauss (c), Cook, Trott, Pieterson, Bell, Morgan, Prior (wk), Swann, Broad, Anderson, Tremlett.
Official-looking prediction: Draw. 100th Sachin ton. Both batting sides will stumble. Mukund ton. Broad will take 2-3 wickets. Tremlett will take more. I’ll be slightly wrong about something and very wrong about something else.