So, after what seems like an eternity, India have put up a full strength side for arguably the most important Test series in the last two years. India won the series last time they toured under Rahul Dravid’s captaincy; but this English side under Andrew Strauss is way tougher side and is legitimate challengers for the top ranking. So it is pleasing to see that both sides will be playing pretty much their first choice eleven, in what promises to be an appetizing series for connoisseurs of good ‘ole Test cricket.
For once, India will not be the only side boasting of a world class middle-order in bilateral series involving them. Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell will be tough to get past with Eoin Morgan and Matt Prior providing more headaches lower down the order. Of course, they will have the small matter of dealing with Alastair Cook’s ominous Test form.
That is why I feel that this series will be decided by the mini-battle between the Indian seamers and the English batsmen. While the Indian batsmen will be challenged to the extreme by James Anderson, Chris Tremlett and Graeme Swann, the English batsmen will feel more confident of dealing with the Indian bowlers. Apart from Zaheer Khan, no other bowler is going to give them sleepless nights. So it will be imperative for the support bowlers to raise their game during this tour.
It is safe to assume that India will play three seamers and a lone specialist spinner in Harbhajan Singh. It is still safer to assume that Harbhajan the bowler is not going to be much of a factor considering the fact that the English batsmen get to practice against Swann in the nets. So, the burden lies on Zaheer and the other medium-pacers to get among the wickets.
Here is a look at the men who have to make a difference for India to emerge victorious.
Zaheer Khan is India’s lone world class pace bowler and one of the major reasons for India’s victory on the last tour to England. He might not be express pace, but he more than makes up for it with his skill and experience. This time around, he will have to guide his younger colleagues to form a potent attack. His contests with Cook and Trott will prove to be some of the most critical moments in the series.
Shantakumaran Sreesanth was a supporting act to Zaheer and RP Singh on the last tour, but this time he will have to step up to share the burden with Zaheer. No one doubts his talent and drive, but it is his temperament that lets him down most of the time. If he can keep himself under check and churn out spells like the ones he produces in South Africa, he will be a huge weapon for India.
Munaf Patel is an enigma when it comes to Test cricket. In ODIs, he is a parsimonious bowler who manages to prise wickets at crucial junctures while keeping the run-rate down. In Tests though, batsmen are more than content to just play him out, nullifying his effectiveness. It is hard to see him getting a game until one of the other pace bowlers get injured or have a drastic dip in form.
When Ishant Sharma bowled THAT spell to Ricky Ponting, it was as if Indian cricket had been blessed with that rare gift: a fast bowler who could hustle the best batsmen in the world. Since then, he has seen both extremes of the success scale. Happily, he is now on an upward swing. He has been the most impressive fast bowler for India in the series against West Indies and will be expected to carry his form to the England series. It will be fitting if he can make a good impression in a country where he got his first call up to the national team.
Praveen Kumar has been a surprise package in the series against West Indies. They said that he is primarily a short format bowler who can’t bowl with an old ball. But he has proved to be more than a handful, even in unhelpful conditions. England will seem like heaven, considering that pitches there are tailor-made for bowlers like him. He might not be an automatic pick in the XI, but if given a chance, will prove to be an effective option for India.
So, there it is. For all of India’s traditional strength in spin, it could well turn out to be quality pace bowling which could win them a closely fought series. This is possibly India’s top five pace bowlers and if they can’t do the trick, I doubt anyone else can.
(The writings of Benjamin Prabhu (Benny, aka tracer007) are products of a fanatical cricketing mind for over a decade and a half. After a brief stint in school cricket in the 90s, he decided that chasing a red ball around a field in white flannels as a substitute fielder was not really getting him anywhere. He subsequently entered medical school, where he spent half the time learning how not to kill a patient and the rest of the time, sharing his opinions about the state of international cricket to people who had no idea of what he was talking about. Since graduation, he is living in the US, where he chanced upon the world of cricket blogging; and in an instant, an idea to start a cricket blog shot through his brain ‘like a tracer bullet’ and (likeatracerbullet) was born)