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By Chetan Narula
Nottingham: Jul 8, 2014
Devoid of experience but propped up by a confident bunch of youngsters, India would be looking to wipe off the past scars and reverse their poor overseas record when they take on England in a five-Test series starting on Wednesday.
It is a great opportunity for a young visiting side as they play five back-to-back Tests in this hectic 42-day series. The next four Tests will be played at London (Lord’s), Southampton, Manchester and London again (The Oval).
Under MS Dhoni, India’s last overseas Test win had come against the West Indies at Kingston in June 2011.
Since then they have gone on to lose 0-8 in two tours to England and Australia.
A new overseas journey began in the 2013-14 season, which saw them play four overseas Tests in South Africa and New Zealand. But they couldn’t get back to winning ways, losing two and drawing two matches.
That, however, isn’t the only fact hurting Indian cricket. Their Test form against England has really seen a downward curve in the last two encounters as after the 0-4 embarrassment, they suffered a humiliating 1-2 loss at home in the 2012-13 season.
It was the first series win for England in India since 1984-85, one that marked their ascendancy in modern-day Test cricket.
However, things have changed a lot for the hosts since then. Their current Test squad bears a dissimilar look to the ones that dismantled India with such ease in their last two meetings.
Cricketers who really shone in those encounters are either suffering from poor form or fatigue — Alastair Cook, Stuart Broad, James Anderson — while some — Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott — have vanished from the scene altogether.
The combination of Anderson and Swann (with ample support from Broad, Tim Bresnan and Monty Panesar at different times) proved lethal for India on both the previous occasions.
Whether away or at home, there was no respite for their batsmen as quality pace and swing backed up by some sensational spin bowling caused havoc in their ranks.
The duo accounted for 34 out of 79 Indian wickets to fall in the summer of 2011, while their tally went up to 32 out of 55 dismissals in the winter of 2012-13.
Swann’s absence is hurting England because they now have to play an additional seam bowler while off-setting the spin duties to Moeen Ali, a move that hasn’t invoked much confidence.
It meansadditional burden on their primary medium pacers, Anderson and Broad. But if the recent trend of placid wickets — like the ones at both Lord’s and Headingley in the recent first home series-loss to Sri Lanka — continues, the hosts will find that taking 20 wickets will not be an easy proposition.
Bowlers need the cushion of runs to take wickets in Test cricket and Cook’s form is the great worry herein. The English captain has now gone 24 innings without crossing the triple-figure mark and the visitors can look at this fact with some joy.
In their last two meetings, Cook buried the Indian bowling under an avalanche of runs — 910 runs in eight Tests (14 innings).
While he searches for runs at the present moment, his captaincy has suffered and he has come under severe criticism from many quarters, a point of possible exploitation for Dhoni and his men.
Pietersen was the other great scorer for England in those two encounters — 533 runs in 2011 and 338 runs in 2012-13 — and that chapter is more or less closed now.
With Trott missing, it puts great pressure on Ian Bell to become the second scoring pivot in this upcoming series as the batting line-up is otherwise replete with youngsters trying to fit in.
England are undergoing a massive transition at this moment and five Tests is ample opportunity for any side looking for a revenge job on them.
If there is an R-word this Indian team is looking for, however, then it is redemption. The 18-man squad bears a completely different look to the one that toured in 2011 or played at home in 2012-13.
Only Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma played here three summers ago, while the others who stepped into the team during the latter series were taking a first step in their respective international careers.
It provides an opportunity to break away from the past and build for the future, signalling an end to the long and painful transition period.
Dissociated with the sufferings of 2011 then, this side will look to build on the positives gained in South Africa and New Zealand.
In eight innings on those two tours, India crossed the 300-mark on two occasions, going on to score 421 at Johannesburg and 438 at Wellington.
They should have won at least one and at most two of those four Tests, but the inability to take 20 wickets has hurt them badly.
It is this question that needs answering and in turn will ascertain the playing XI for this first Test in Nottingham.
For long, Dhoni has searched for a medium-pacer all-rounder to deploy overseas and Stuart Binny looks like the answer to his prayers.
For, these are the two players who will certainly miss out if Binny comes into consideration. Ashwin has been pushed to the bench by Ravindra Jadeja who looks set to be retained as the lone spinner with the Trent Bridge wicket bearing a brownish tinge.
Meanwhile, Sharma has done little of note in the eight innings (one fifty) in South Africa and New Zealand, and it was noted that Rahane (one hundred and two fifties in South Africa and New Zealand) batted before him in the two practice games.
Despite his troubles in the warm-up matches, Ishant Sharma will probably be selected on account of his past experience in these conditions, with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami giving him company.
But a regular four-bowler attack might not cut it any more. If India do go in with five bowlers, it will be an early indication of their intent in this high-profile Test series.
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