Kevin Pietersen… the man who poses the biggest threat to Team India © Getty Images
The dress rehearsal to the India-England Test series is done and dusted with. The visitors have had a good look at the conditions in their three practice matches, although they weren’t give any exposure to quality spin — a strategic move by the Indian think-tank.
In this two-part series, let us analyse the performances of the England players in warm-ups and determine what holds in store for them. The focus of this article is on the batsmen.
Spin or no spin, England would be happy that their batsmen have scored runs in the tour matches. Most of their preferred batting options have had at least one good hit in the middle. That should help them get into the first Test with an enhanced self-belief. Adjusting to the sub-continental conditions isn’t easy, and the English batsmen have done well to capitalise on the opportunities they have got thus far on the tour. Heading into a big Test series, it was imperative that they find their rhythm.
Alastair Cook has done well on previous tours to India, but this time he arrived in the country with a bigger reputation. In 2006, he flew in last minute and scored 60 and 104 not out. It was a remarkable achievement considering the fact that it was his Test debut. In 2008, Cook came in as an established opener, alongside Andrew Strauss, and recorded a few good knocks. But this time around he is the England captain and comes in with a huge bank of runs scored over the last two years.
Keeping Strauss’ retirement in perspective, Cook’s form is very important for England’s success. He has scored 218 runs in the two tour games he has played, which includes a fighting hundred in the match against India A. Cook has to take this form into the Test series as he would be partnered by a debutant. Nick Compton looks set to fill in the shoes of Strauss and carry on the legacy of his famous grandfather, Dennis Compton. With three fifties in the tour matches, he has surged ahead of Joe Root (he was given only one game) and established himself as the frontline option. Given the fact that he has played all the three games shows that the team management backs him to do well in the Test series.
Jonathan Trott was England’s leading run-scorer in the tour matches and it augurs well for them ahead of the Test series. Off late, he hasn’t matched his prolific tendencies and has struggled to maintain consistency. He has scored only one Test hundred since June 2011, a fighting 112 against Sri Lanka at Galle. That performance may actually hold him in good stead as England entered Sri Lanka with the ghost of Saeed Ajmal hanging over their heads.
In those spin-friendly Sri Lankan conditions, he scored that fantastic hundred in the fourth innings and the result could have been very different had he received support from the other end. He followed it up with a fifty in the next game which helped Kevin Pietersen plunder the Lankan attack, a game that England won. If England are to do well in India, their No 3 has to get back to his best. Once he gets his eye in, it is difficult to dislodge him, and with that gritty approach he can get under the skin of the Indians.
India would be wary of Pietersen, the comeback man who would be eager to score runs. The drama is behind him and the best he can do is to go out there and get the runs for England. His addition has changed the look of the entire England batting and it looks more power-packed. With his stupendous ability, he can win games almost single-handedly or change the course of the game in a short time. His tour kicked off with his nemesis Yuvraj Singh dismissing him, but his hundred against Haryana would be a huge confidence booster.
Ian Bell hasn’t been as successful as some his teammates have in the tour games. Initially, it was a bit of a concern as he failed in the first two games. However, against Haryana he bounced back with 62 and 48, something that would help him find his rhythm. He relishes the Indian bowling attack and boasts of a fantastic record against them. One might be tempted to say that he hasn’t peaked early and might be in full flow in the Test series.
The No 6 spot is potentially a three-way race. Jonny Bairstow was one of the few positives to emerge from England’s defeat to South Africa at Lord’s in August as he put in two fighting performances. In his only innings on this India tour, he smashed a hundred against Mumbai A. Eoin Morgan scored 76 in that game to prove his form.
Through all that, Samit Patel is the frontrunner with a hundred and two fifties on tour. England played him against Haryana at No 6 ahead of the other two candidates and that is an indication that they have zeroed in on him for that role. He can contribute with the bat, and his left-arm spin would be of great help in Indian conditions. That would allow them to play the extra fast bowler in place of Monty Panesar, something that would be discussed in detail in Part Two of this series — one that focuses on England’s bowlers.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)