The India-England series is shaping up to be a fascinating contest. England under Michael Vaughan have shown themselves to be near-invincible at home and it will be a real feather in Rahul Dravid’s cap if he can become the first Indian captain to lead his side to victory since Kapil Dev in 1986.
It will be particularly sweet since this happens to be the 75th anniversary of Indian Test cricket. And yet in all these years India have managed to win just two series (out of 14) in England. The last, in 2002 was drawn 1-1.
Vaughan is quite aware that the Indians will be a much sterner test than the West Indian side that was brushed aside in the Test series earlier in the summer.
India’s batting looks much the same as it did in 2002. The stalwarts of the last decade—Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman--will all almost certainly be on their final tour of England. The only name missing in the top order from five years ago is Virender Sehwag.
It is the pace bowling department that has an untested look about it. Apart from a rejuvenated Zaheer Khan—who had an outstanding season for Worcestershire last year—the rest are pretty raw and on their first tour of England.
While S. Sreesanth is sure to be part of the playing XI for the first Test at Lord’s, the third’s seamer’s slot is still an open question.
The lack of fitness of Munaf Patel and loss of form of Irfan Pathan have made big dents in the side. At their peak both would have been distinct assets in English conditions.
England have their problems too with the loss of Andrew Flintoff through injury and Steve Harmison also highly unlikely to be fit in time for the Lord’s Test.
Quite apart from which team will ultimately win the series, it is the little individual battles within the bigger picture that make this a series of such fascinating flavours.
Quite the most anticipated of these battles will be the one between Monty Panesar and Tendulkar.
Panesar has become the new cult hero of English cricket and his Indian roots bring in another intriguing angle.
Tendulkar was his first Test wicket when he toured India in 2006 and now Panesar is relishing resuming battle with the maestro.
Hopefully with two innings of 90-plus in the ODIs against South Africa and a century in the second warm-up match, Tendulkar will be able to once again showcase his genius that made him such a success in his three previous tours of England (1990, 1996 and 2002).
He has though over the years revealed a weakness against left-arm spinners ranging from Daniel Vetttori and Ray Price to Ashley Giles and Paul Harris.
The saddest part of it all though is that there are just three Tests, rarely enough to judge the relative merits of the two sides. And all this to accommodate a monstrous seven ODIs!