Daijiworld Media Network
Ahmedabad, Nov 15 : It's November 15th, finally! The build up to this Test series has been going on for quite some time now, and it's time for the real action to begin. No Indian will ever forget the 0-4 thrashing in England last year, so they will want 'revenge', although the word is a bit too strong. England are no longer the number 1 side in the world and will have to face India's spin test throughout the series. Let's hope the series lives up to the hype!
November 15 is also a special day in Indian cricket for another reason: 23 years back in 1989, a 16-year old called Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar made his debut for India. And everyone knows what happened in the next 23 years...
Pitch: 'It has a bit of an unknown quantity here. It has been re-laid. The pitch isn't too hard, it has a powdery look to it. It will be a good first innings wicket to bat on but will get harder as the game progresses. It will start turning as early as day 2. There are a few cracks already and when those start opening up, we may get some uneven bounce.'
India have won the toss and elected to bat
Dhoni: 'We'll bat. No surprises there. You win the toss and bat first in the sub-continent. The pitch will be a bit different than what we have witnessed here earlier. I don't think the fast bowlers will get much pace or bounce. It will start spinning as the game progresses. Vijay, Rahane, Ishant and Harbhajan are the guys missing out.'
Cook: 'It's a tough place to come and play but we've prepared well for the last 3 weeks. We're all fit and keen to do well. Finn is injured, Bresnan is in. We don't see this series as a learning curve, we have come here to win.'
Two spinners and two pacers in the Indian eleven. And Yuvraj Singh is all set to return to the Test side as well. Not many surprises in the England eleven as well.
England (Playing XI): Alastair Cook(c), Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Matt Prior(w), Samit Patel, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson
India (Playing XI): Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni(w/c), Ravichandran Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav, Pragyan Ojha
Match Preview :
In what is touted as a revenge series, India will be hoping to pay England in kind to what they did last year when they face each other in a series of four Test matches. India suffered an embarrassing 0-4 drubbing when they travelled to England in July-August last year and will be looking to do the same to the Alastair Cook led side in the series that kicks off at Ahmedabad.
England in India, series summary:
England, who have not won a Test series in India in nearly 28 years, have so far toured the country 13 times. They managed victories in 4 series, while ending up on the losing side six times. Three series finished as draws.
Despite Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman no longer part of the set-up, Indian batting looks a strong unit on paper. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir may not have performed well in Test cricket in the recent years, but they have an opportunity to make amends in this series, an extra cushion to them being the fact that the pitches are not likely to provide the quick bowlers much assistance. In case the team management decides to leave out one of these players or if they pick up an injury, Murali Vijay, who performed well in domestic cricket this year, is present to fill in the spot. In the number 3 position, India have a promising youngster in Cheteshwar Pujara, who has proved that he is a quality player and has the ability to become a rock-solid batsman like Dravid was.
Nothing much needs to be said about the class of Sachin Tendulkar, who comes in next in the order. Although his batting in the recent times has not been all that great, the urge to perform well against a quality team like England, will invigorate the batsman. At number 5, India have the classy Virat Kohli, whose tremendous run-making form gives India a big boost. For the number 6 spot, it's a battle between Yuvraj Singh and Ajinkya Rahane. Given that Yuvraj, whose return to cricket after undergoing an ordeal with cancer, has been extraordinary, also provides the spin option, India might choose to go in with him. Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who will occupy the number 7 position, completes the batting unit. As mentioned earlier, this is a quality line-up of players but each individual must live up to his potential and not take things for granted.
India's main weapon as far as bowling is concerned, will be the spinners. R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha have been phenomenal in home conditions, staking up their wickets column, and will be banked upon to pick up the maximum number of scalps in this series as well. India also have the option of picking Harbhajan Singh although the skipper ruled out the possibility of a third spinner in the line-up. Zaheer Khan, whose fitness in the recent years has been in question, heads the pace department and will bring his experience into play.
Umesh Yadav is likely to partner Zaheer if Ishant Sharma does not recover from a viral fever in time. India also have the option of picking Ashok Dinda, who has been called up as cover for Ishant. Spinners, as written earlier, are the key for the hosts but the seamers will also be expected to do chip in with contributions going up against a quality batting unit of England.
Having played three practice matches and spent enough time at the middle, England's batting unit will look extend that form into the 4-Test series although the quality of their opposition's bowling is way better than what England faced against the likes of India A, Mumbai and Haryana. Cook leads the charge at the top and will have Nick Compton to partner him in all likelihood. Jonathan Trott has been England's vital cog at the number three position over the years and the kind of secure feeling that comes when he is out to bat, will be key for England, who will face the trial by spin. Kevin Pietersen's return to England's fold is a big boost as his familiarity with the Indian conditions apart from his world-class batting prowess is a big advantage to the side.
On the downside, issues between Pietersen and the other senior players may not have fully been squashed and the temperamental cricketer's weakness against left arm spin is also no secret. At number 5 comes Ian Bell, who has been a key contributor with the bat for England in the recent years and the team will be expecting him to contribute a fair share in this series. England have three choices for the number 6 spot - Samit Patel, Jonny Bairstow or Eoin Morgan - and might opt for Patel as he has batted well in the practice games and also provides the spin option. Matt Prior, who is currently touted as the best wicket-keeper batsman in Test cricket in the recent times, fills in the number seven position. England no doubt have an able batting unit but how they cope with the Indian spinners will be the big question when the first Test gets under way.
James Anderson leads the seam attack that also has the talented Stuart Broad, who has regained fitness after suffering a bruised heel. England had a setback when Steven Finn, whose height would have been a factor even on docile wickets, did not recover from a thigh muscle strain he picked up in the game against India A. While Stuart Meaker has been flown in as back-up, England are likely to go in with Tim Bresnan although they do have Graham Onions in the squad while Monty Panesar as Graeme Swann's partner could also be an option. Swann, who has returned to India after taking a break to attend to his unwell daughter, will have a big role to play on Indian pitches.
Although depending completely on him for wickets would be a wrong way to go about for the visitors, his wicket-taking abilities will be crucial for the team from the United Kingdom. The second big question for England will be whether Swann or the quick bowlers can make an impact going up against a strong Indian batting unit and having to contend with pitches that will be tailor-made for the hosts.
Pitch and weather:
The Indian cricketers have been vocal in their request for rank-turners in the four Tests and given England's weakness against spin and India's eagerness to hand the visitors a whitewash, the Motera track may well set the platform for the first Test to be a spinners' feast. The Ahmedabad track has traditionally known to be batsmen-friendly, with 6 of the 11 Tests played at the Sardar Patel Stadium so far ending in draws. However, the fact that the track has been relaid and curator Dhiraj Parsana stating that he has been told to not not discuss about the pitch, spin bowlers are likely to end up with the highest tally of wickets at the end of the opening Test. As far as the weather is concerned, clear skies are forecast for all the five days with 0% chance of precipitation.
9: The number of wickets Zaheer Khan needs to become the fourth Indian player with 300 or more wickets in Tests. He will also become the second Indian pacer after Kapil Dev to have crossed the 300 mark.
8: The number of wickets Graeme Swann needs to take to become only the second England spinner with 200 or more scalps in Tests. Swann will also become the 14th England bowler with 200 or more wickets.
2: The number of Test matches Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh need to play for either of them become the 8th and the Indian 9th player to have played in 100 or more Tests.
England have faced very little spin bowling leading up to the Test series barring their match against Haryana in which they ended up conceding four wickets to the leggies of Amit Mishra. While the visitors may not look too much into it, going up against R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha will be a lot tougher challenge and unless the England batsmen put their heads down and come up with a clinical batting show, the hosts may well have taken a 1-0 lead at the end of this game.
It's always advisable to have a bowling attack that has people for different scenarios: MS Dhoni seeks variety in the bowling line-up.
I'm obviously excited, a little bit nervous but very proud to be leading: Alastair Cook gets set for his first Test as England captain.
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