After the weather-affected Sri Lanka series produced a rather limp start to the Test summer, there is a general expectation that the four matches against India could provide a stark contrast and go down as one of the great series. Even if doesn’t eventually rank alongside South Africa 2009/10 and the Ashes 2005 in recent memory, it promises to be close and anything but dull. Bearing that in mind, we turned off the television (it was showing two confused Australians being asked questions by a panel of dull middle-aged men and women), unplugged the phone and discussed the series over tea and cake.
First up, James stated that the key for both sides will be the performances of their respective third seamer. He thinks that England will not be able to carry Stuart Broad as they did against Sri Lanka, and both teams have a strong new ball pairing backed up by a top class spinner. It’s vital for both sides that any pressure they build up at the beginning is not released as soon as they change the bowling. He states that “it’s difficult to see England winning by the two test margin they require to take India’s number one spot in the rankings, and if you throw in the weather plus their traditional disaster Test, a draw seems the most plausible outcome.”
However Matt L thinks that the Indian bowling attack will not cause England many sleepless nights, aside from Zaheer Khan. “It will be interesting to see how the Indian batting line-up fare when conditions are not flat and placid. England just need to carry on what they’ve been doing for the past 12 months.”
Hallam agrees insofar as he thinks that a lot of the Indian hopes depend on Zaheer Khan. “After him and Harbhajan Singh there isn’t a lot of quality in the bowling line up to scare an in-form English top order.” Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Strauss need to bring more to the table, as surely the incredible form of Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell cannot continue the entire summer. James Anderson and Chris Tremlett will provide probing questions to an ageing Indian middle order, but it will be Graeme Swann they should be most wary of. Being used to spin in your own conditions is one thing, but they should underestimate him at their peril.
Paul thinks that India’s hopes rest on their back-up bowlers performing well. He disagrees that their strike bowlers will be consistent enough to trouble England’s in-form top order regularly, so believes they will need the spinners and part-timers to keep the run rate in check. As for England, he has no worries about the batting at all; their success rests on keeping the pace bowlers fit. “They’ve shown time and again in the last decade that in familiar conditions, even the most stubborn batsmen struggle to judge the moving ball.”
Amidst this optimism, Al popped up with a more sombre view. He is a true 90’s England child and still sees collapses around every corner, although “I do think that England should be favourites, and if they can take advantage of the lack of game time for the key Indian players then they could still have the series wrapped up before India have a chance to get going.” Nonetheless, he has a concern about the strength in depth of parts of the England squad, and injuries to either of the openers, Swann or Matt Prior will leave some tough questions for the selectors. Given the weather, he predicts a miserably pessimistic draw.
However Fyre disagrees and thinks that the Indian batsmen are all well rested and in decent nick and following good series in South Africa and the West Indies (where the tracks weren’t quite so flat and lifeless as they are often used to), they will be quite confident of a good performance. Zaheer Khan is back, Ishant Sharma has just taken 23 wickets in three games and for once they have a selection dilemma for the third seamer involving Praveen Kumar and Munaf Patel (both of whom will love English conditions) and even more importantly one that doesn’t involve the word Sreesanth. In his words: “if only I was as optimistic and condescending about our chances as some of the English fans I would go for a 2-1 win, but as it is, and keeping England’s recent form, home conditions and batting resolve in mind I’ll go for a 1-1. No, hang on, 2-1. To India.”
Taking the opposite view, Matt H thinks that the Indians might get off to a slow start, having had only one warm up match. Half the team were absent from their recent tour of the Caribbean. He concedes that if they find form the Indian batsmen are clearly good enough to post big totals, although conditions may favour the English attack. However Anthony thinks that the Indian batting line up has proved over the years that it can make runs anywhere. He continues by saying that their bowling attack may struggle to take enough wickets in England: “under-cooked as they are, they will be delighted to get away from Lords with a draw.”
Chris thinks that the test for both sides will be how they respond to the new ball. Both teams have a seam attack that will fancy their chances and that will look to capitalise on making early inroads into the opposition. The Indians will be well rested, and the form of Cook, Trott and Bell in particular could be crucial. He states that “in a close contest, and in keeping with the English summer accounting for one of the tests, a tight 2-1 win for England will be enough to take the series, while India cling onto the top spot in the ICC rankings.”
Dan is never one to shy from a sly dig at the ICC and thinks that although India are nominally the Test number one nation, England would be far more fearful of facing South Africa in English conditions. He expects Swann to comprehensively outbowl Harbhajan Singh and the Indian pace attack to be largely ineffective in English conditions. Cal agrees about the Indian bowlers and says that the way the new ball is used will have a massive impact on this series. “In my opinion the English pace attack is superior and at times the Indians may well find themselves struggling after early wickets and will rely heavily on their middle order. Given that it doesn’t yet appear obvious who will play at 6 this may well be their undoing.” He acknowledges that the Indians are vaunted as the best players of spin around but also thinks the English seem to have improved their technique against it under Flower’s guidance, so it will also be an interesting test for both Swann and Harbhajan Singh.
By this time the tea had run out, the cake consumed and we were rudely interrupted by Nichael wielding a shaving foam pie. We quickly concluded by submitting our written predictions for the score and men of the series.
Al: 1-1. Trott/Harbhajan Singh.
Anthony: 2-1 to England, 1-1 if the appalling weather continues. Cook/Sharma.
Cal: 3-1 to England. Anderson/Laxman.
Chris: 2-1 to England. Bell/Zaheer Khan.
Dan: 2-0 to England. Cook/Tendulkar.
Fyre: 2-1. Trott/Zaheer Khan.
Hallam: 2-1 to England. Swann/Gambhir.
James: 1-1. Bell/Laxman.
Matt H: 2-1 to England. Anderson/Zaheer Khan.
Matt L: 2-0 to England (with weather thwarting two matches). Tremlett/Tendulkar.
Paul: 2-0 to England. Anderson/Gambhir.