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India and England get back to action
by Renin Wilben
Dec 11, 2008
Renin Wilben

After all the concerns over security in the last couple of weeks following the dreaded Mumbai attacks, the India-England Test series is all set to get underway at Chennai on Thursday. It will be a sigh of relief for many as we try to get over the Mumbai incident. And Chennai is perhaps the best place to start considering the ever-sporting crowd seen there. Unfortunately rain might play dampener but we can only hope and pray that it stays away.

India, of course, will begin the series as favourites. Virender Sehwag will return to the ground where he scored a triple century the last time India played a Test here - against South Africa in March this year. He has been in great form since and will be eager to continue with it. And with his batting partner, another Delhi lad, Gautam Gambhir also having the time of his life with the bat, India can look forward to some pretty aggressive starts. At present, the duo is arguably the best opening pair in world cricket. But they have to remain consistent over a longer period of time to find the name etched among the all time greats. In comparison, England, who will in all probability open with Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss, have a big disadvantage. True, they are good players in their own right but Cook featured in only one of the ODI games in which he failed. Strauss, on the other hand, has arrived in India as a Test specialist. And owing to all the drama surrounding the terror strikes, England haven't got a chance to practice much with is quite an integral part of any touring team's preparations.

Following the loss of Sourav Ganguly, the era of the Fab Four has come to an end but the middle-order still looks solid. Sachin Tendulkar would look to continue his lover affair with Chennai. He has played some of his best knocks here – be it the 165 against England way back in 1993, the memorable Warne-bashing unbeaten 155 in 1998 or the ton in the crucial decider in 2001 series against the Aussies. VVS Laxman also had a great time in the series against Australia and will be eager to make some big scores using the bat presented to him by the retired Sourav Ganguly. England though must believe they have a window of opportunity when it comes to the Indian batting. Rahul Dravid has to prove that he is only suffering from a loss of form and that he still has cricket left in him. Similarly, Yuvraj Singh might have had a great ODI series against the Englishmen but he is yet to stamp his authority in Test cricket.

Like India, England too have a solid middle-order and an experienced one at that. But the worry is while Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff are fit and raring to go, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood had a forgettable ODI tournament. The former in fact had to be dropped owing to his wretched run. They have to get their act together if England want to compete in the Tests. It would also be interesting to see if Owais Shah gets a look in. He has a pretty good record in one-day cricket and was magnificent in series against India but this will be a different kind of Test. The choice of wicket-keeper will be between the inconsistent Matt Prior and Tim Ambrose and going by logic this shouldn't be a tough call.

India have better resources in the bowling department too. If Ishant Sharma bowls like he did against Australia, the English batsmen will be on the back foot. He and Zaheer Khan displayed the great quality to reverse swing the ball against the Aussies and will be more than handy if they repeat the act against England. The visitors can breathe a sigh of relief now that their nemesis over the years, Anil Kumble, has decided to pull down the curtains on his career. However, they still have to tackle Harbhajan Singh and the impressive rookie Amit Mishra. If left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha plays, the unknown quantity factor might come into play. Conversely, England have two experienced but struggling pacemen in Steve Harmison and James Anderson. The team will expect the duo to pull up their socks in the two Tests. Andrew Flintoff continues to remain reliable as ever and Monty Panesar's inclusion is undoubtedly a shot in the arm for the team. Pacer Stuart Broad and offie Graeme Swann too impressed in the shorter version so England have some back-up to bank upon.

There have been reports in the papers that India would employ a 7-2 field like they did in a crucial phase during the Nagpur Test. While that may turn the tide in India's favour, it would be a big disappointment if such a situation transpires. Test cricket deserves much better and at least from an aggressive captain like MS Dhoni. Let's hope for the game's sake that sanity prevails and the series provides some great entertainment and a much needed relief from terror if only temporarily.
 
More Views by Renin Wilben
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