A week ago, India selectors announced a 18-man squad for the five test series in England starting July 2014. Exactly three years ago, India embarked a journey onto English summer with two primary agendas: defending the #1 test ranking and completing Sachin’s 100th ton. By the end of that summer MS Dhoni was left empty handed on both those fronts, and instead he got a list full of injured players, dropping out of the team like leaflets. The 2011 tour also initiated Captain Cool’s worst overseas run as a leader. A captain who had lost only 2 test and won 5 in 12 tests outside India, ended up losing 10 of his next 12 overseas assignment without adding any to the win column.
England, a team that beat Australia 3-0 last summer, is now facing a whole set of new challenges. The batting order needs reinvention after the loss of Trott and exclusion of Pietersen by choice. Their bowling seems to rely heavily on aging Anderson at times. Thus both teams clash heads with almost equal footing and separated only with 2 points on the ICC Test ranking table. Comprehensive series win would place the winner at #3 spot. For India, it’s first of 5-test series after a very long time (last one being in WI 2002 summer).
India has been rebuilding for over two years. Their last English summer saw the departures of Harbhajan, Zaheer, Munaf, from the bowling unit, since then the batting legends at #3, #4, and #5 have hung their boots as well. The top order has been revamped, and Gambhir is now a reserved opener. Dhoni should have loads of confidence in his batting line up after their heroics in South Africa and New Zealand. Middle order looks very solid. However, bowling continues to be a worry, as it has been for all of the last 12 overseas tests. Ishant is a work-horse but hasn’t yet graduated to be the spearhead of the attack even after 6 years. Neither Jadeja nor Ashwin appear to be threatening spinners of test quality and unfortunately the squad doesn’t feature a lad named Ojha.
MS Dhoni, as a leader, wouldn’t want to repeat some of the mistakes of the past 12 overseas tests, where he let squander some of the golden opportunities to win abroad. Nottingham 2011, Melbourne 2011, Jo’Burg 2013, and Wellington 2014 were 4 such instances where his inexplicable leadership tactics let the victory slip out of our hands. He has better resources in ample quantity at his disposal this time around and one would hope that he would repeat wonders of his recent ODI success as a leader, in this five test debacle.
Cook would have his hands full as well. He does have a chance of playing a short two test series against the Lankans and test his new batting line up and tweak it if needed. Chris Jordan and Moeen Ali are welcome additions to the squad, although Ben Stokes might have felt hard done by his exclusion. England do lack a quality spinner since Swann retired, however, Panesar might be recalled against India, after noting his success in their last tour to India.
The five tests are kind of crammed in 42 days, leaving very little rest time in between for players. Players from both sides will need to be at the peak of their fitness and form. India’s busy international itinerary has ensured that they only get two practice games prior to such an important test tour, especially for not having played any tests for last five months. English team would have a slight advantage of coming off a test series against another quality opponent. Overall, it has all the ingredients for the cracker of a series, and only time will tell as to exactly what the players would deliver! As an ardent fan of the game I wish both teams good luck and may the best team win at the end of it all!!
-Nikhil Sharad Jadhav