As expected, India wrapped up the series in WI and are now in England for a much tougher challenge. I did read articles that India squandered the chance to win 2-0 in WI, but I think they did the right thing by accepting the draw instead of going for broke in the last 1 hour. At the moment of walking off, they needed something like 86 runs in 90 balls with Dravid and Laxman at the crease. There were Virat and Dhoni to follow but they had lost the in-form Raina. Considering that Dravid and Laxman are not part of the ODI squad any more, I think it was good that they decided to be pragmatic about the chase and accepted the draw. Even if they had decided to go for the win, in my opinion the draw would have been the most likely result and Dhoni would have coped more flak for deciding to go for the win and not accomplishing it. Anyway, I just wanted to put in my 2 cents regarding the drawn test match in WI. Lets now look ahead to the England series and particularly, the first test match at Lord's.
Lets make no mistake, England is a much tougher side than WI and are even more difficult to face at their home. They have a very good bowling line-up of 4 wicket-taking bowlers and all their batsmen are in top form at the moment. India are going to have to be on top of their game and cannot relax even for 1 hour or 1 session, as Sri Lanka found out to their dismay by losing the test series because of 1 bad hour in the first test match. Having said that, I am very glad that India have all their top players available other than Sehwag. They need to be at full strength to do well against this England side. In my mind, the starting eleven for the first test match is pretty much decided. I would go with 6 batsmen (Gambhir, Mukund, Dravid, Sachin, Laxman, Raina), Dhoni, Harbhajan and 3 fast bowlers (Zaheer, PK, Ishant). Neither Sreesanth nor Munaf showed they are ready for a test match yet and dont look good enough to replace PK, who is the only debatable choice in the line-up. If this is the line-up, I hope Dhoni does not give the new ball to Ishant instead of PK. Zak and PK would make for a nice bowling attack up front, using whatever swing is available and try to take out a couple of wickets early. Ishant should be used as first change to provide pace and bounce. With Ishant's pace, he can extract bounce and seam even with a ball that is more than 10 overs old and does not need the new ball.
Regarding the batting, we need to get at least 350 runs every time we bat. It is nice to see that Mukund is looking more assured these days than he was in his first 2 test matches. He also had a couple of decent knocks in the Somerset game which would have done his confidence some good. Lets hope Raina continues his good form and for him too, the hundred he got against Somerset would have done wonders to his confidence, even if it was after the loss of 8 wickets and against much friendlier bowling than he will face in the tests. In test matches, sometimes it is all about how good a batsmen is feeling about himself and once he is feeling good, the runs will automatically come irrespective of the bowling and conditions. The experienced middle order of Rahul, Sachin and VVS need to make the bulk of the runs and for that, they should remember to play close to the body at all times. All these 3 batsmen have got out a few times in the recent past either caught behind the wickets or bowled between bat and pad when playing a little away from the body. This England team is very good at maintaining the ball for 80 overs, so they will find seam and cut in the middle overs (20 to 50) and will also get reverse swing with the older ball, so the Indian batsmen need to be on their guard at all times.
Now lets look at some potential weaknesses in this England side, especially in the bowling. In my opinion, the biggest threat for India will be from Chris Tremlett. He is very tall, and generates disconcerting bounce from a good length and as we all know, the Indian batsmen are not very good at handling the bouncing ball. He also generates good pace and is pretty accurate. Anderson is the leader of their attack, but in my opinion, can have some ordinary days with the ball, especially when it is not swinging as much as he likes. But when he gets it right, he can be very dangerous and India can find themselves 20 for 3 or 30 for 4 in no time with Anderson taking most of the wickets. Broad is the weak link in my opinion, especially because he is down a little at the moment with his form. When Broad is not at the top of his bowling, he can drift down the leg side quite a bit, and since Indian batsmen are very good off their legs, they should look to capitalize on this and put him away for a few runs in the beginning of his spell. One other weakness in the England bowling side is that they have been playing 4 bowlers and have maybe 1 or 2 who can bowl, but are strictly ordinary and not regular at all. Trott has been bowling a bit lately, but he is not threatening from what I have seen and I dont know if KP is fit enough to bowl if needed. So India should look to target Broad or someone else, which will force Strauss to find other bowling options and that can make life difficult for England.
One other factor in India's favor for the first test match, is that the Lord's track of late has been pretty flat. The biggest thing, especially for the newer players like Mukund, Raina, PK, Ishant etc. would be to adjust to the slope. Once they do that, India can look to assert themselves and put some pressure on England. One more thing. One of the ways to put pressure on England and force them out of their comfort zone, will be to score at a decent pace. The run rate of 2.5 or so that Indian batsmen maintained in WI, is not going to do them good against England. They should look to score at least around 3.5 runs per over so that the longer India bats, the runs will continue to pile up quickly and Strauss will be forced to adjust and make changes to his field and bowling options and switch from attack to defense mode.
I am very excited with this series and believe it will be a good challenge for this Indian team and if India do well, it should silence the critics who express doubts whether India deserves their number one rank. Lets hope for some good cricket overall and an Indian win after a well-fought series.
Lets hear it from you guys now. I am sure you all must be excited to watch and follow the series. Lets hear your thoughts regarding team selection and what you rate India's chances to be.
I will continue to post regularly through the series. I will even try to write between test matches, so stay tuned.