As India go into their first five-Test series in a long while — the first they have played in England since 1959 — opinions surrounding the build-up result in mixed messages.
On the one hand, the Indian team is rather uniformly evaluated as talented but inexperienced with a suspect bowling attack. At the same time, England’s recent debacle in Australia and their defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka has projected the hosts as a shaky and vulnerable unit – an image some commentators have gone out of their way to paint with colourful brushstrokes. The side has suffered the loss of several seasoned cricketers from various reasons, few of them cricketing, and the captain has looked increasingly beleaguered with each Test.
How the young team will fare against the jaded English side remains to be seen. The struggles of Alastair Cook may have a telling effect on the performance of the England team, or like any great batsman he may come back into form and thus change significantly the fortunes of his side. Only time will tell, and conjectures in cricket can be a rather risky affair. What can be predicted, however — slightly more scientifically — is that the Indians are most likely to have their task cut out in the opening Test.
England could not have chosen the venue of the first Test match more judiciously. In the recent past, Nottingham has been their most successful home ground.
Since 2008, they have played here five times and won all the showdowns. The margins of victory also underline the supremacy the hosts have enjoyed at this traditional venue. New Zealand were overcome by an innings in 2008, Pakistan by 354 runs in 2010, India by 319 runs in the nightmarish 2011, and West Indies by nine wickets in 2012. Last year, Australia came close, losing by a mere 14 runs – but that was made possible by a 65-run final wicket association between Brad Haddin and James Pattinson.
Besides, Trent Bridge has been the favoured hunting ground of the English spearhead James Anderson. In the seven Test matches he has played here since 2003, the Lancashire paceman has captured 49 wickets – more than anyone else in the long history of the ground. In the seven Tests he has six five-wicket hauls and two ten-fours and has claimed the wickets at a remarkable 17.34 apiece, getting a batsman out every 37 balls. He simply loves bowling here, and has a better record at the ground than bona fide greats like Alec Bedser, Bob Willis, Nottinghamshire’s foreign star Richard Hadlee, Brian Statham and others – with only Fred Trueman having comparable figures among his countrymen. From the first Test he played here, when he captured five for 102 against South Africa in 2003, to the ten wicket haul against Australia last season, Anderson has always been a handful.
Besides, the other big gun in the bowling line-up has done quite admirably here as well. Stuart Broad’s five Tests have brought him 21 wickets at 22.76 apiece, and that includes six for 46 in the first innings the last time India played here.
True, the Englishmen will be taking field without the exceptional services of Graeme Swann, but this is one ground where they will miss him the least. In the four Tests Swann had played in this arena, he managed just seven wickets at 51.42.
Of course, India can take heart from the fact that they had been the last team to defeat England at Nottingham. That was in 2007, and India had gone on to win the series as well. However, the man responsible for the success was Zaheer Khan, one of the very few Indian bowlers to have thrived in English conditions. Seven years ago, he had taken nine wickets in the game, four in the first, and five in the second. However, this time around, he has not been able to make it to the Indian squad. Praveen Kumar, who had a decent outing in Nottingham in 2011, has been another talent lost somewhere in the journey of the last three years. No other Indian bowler has done anything significant in the ground in recent times. Ishant Sharma’s five wickets in 2011 came at nearly 40 apiece.
Hence, an untested batting line up will go in against a thoroughly seasoned bowling duo while the inexperienced pace attack will have to quickly come to terms with the vagaries of an alien turf.
The task will be cut out for the Indians when the Test starts this Wednesday.
Catch all stories from India’s tour of England 2014 here
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at @senantix)