England v India: How they stack up for the Test
India: Each day in India brings another batting prodigy. How difficult would any country have found it to replace the golden line-up India had through the 2000s? Yet since the retirement of the last of those greats, Sachin Tendulkar, India have moved on pretty smoothly.
Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan have at least one Test hundred away from home in that time; Kohli has two, Rahane and Dhawan both have another near-hundred, as does Murali Vijay. On dry surfaces, against an overworked attack, this new line-up may cash in like that of old.
England: England are undergoing a similar, less-stellar transition. Losing Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott, both prematurely, to a degree, was grave enough.
To then have captain Alastair Cook enter a prolonged trough has proved fatal. They have also yet to settle definitively on an opening partner for Cook, and are unclear about the worth of an ageing Matt Prior.
But, like India, there is fresh blood. These are very early days – even India’s line-up is more experienced – but in Gary Ballance, Sam Robson, Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes, they have the makings of a solid order.
England: In retrospect, England’s peak from 2010 to 2012 coincided with that of their fast bowlers, an interchangeable quartet led by James Anderson. Two years on, however, they appear wearily familiar. Anderson and Stuart Broad look overworked, though both are experienced enough for a couple of telling spells.
Support would be handy. Tim Bresnan, Steven Finn and Chris Tremlett are gone. Liam Plunkett has returned, encouragingly if one-dimensionally, but they need another facet after Graeme Swann’s retirement.
The absence of a specialist spinner, let alone a modern great like Swann, is what takes the heaviest toll on England’s attack: Swann brought control and wickets, but also rest for the pacemen during long spells
India: India are at the other end of the spectrum in a sense. Their fast bowlers are too green. Take out Ishant Sharma’s 55 Tests, and the six pace options they brought – Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Varun Aaron, Pankaj Singh, Ishwar Pandey and Stuart Binny – have 13 Tests and 39 wickets among them.
There is potential, especially in the prospects of Bhuvneshwar and Shami. Both swing the ball, and though the expectation is that wickets might not be so bowler-friendly, a five-Test series in England unaffected by swinging conditions at some point is inconceivable. As bonus, in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, there are genuine spin options.
India: England can be a funny place to field for subcontinent sides. If it is cold, they generally struggle, sluggish in the field and slow with their catching. But this India side is probably one of their better fielding units, not as good as their ODI side, but a vast improvement over teams past.
The slip cordon is key, where Ravi Ashwin, at first, is a work in progress. Virat Kohli and Murali Vijay are safe alongside him and there are fewer passengers in the field, generally. Keep an eye on MS Dhoni’s wicketkeeping: the swing after the ball has passed bat is an England quirk and difficult to handle.
England: England are, as a rule, athletic enough in the field, and Anderson, for a fast bowler, is exceptional. But among the best countries – New Zealand, Australia and South Africa – they are probably the least noteworthy.
They have, in recent series, become positively ragged, however, dropping chances and missing run-outs aplenty. Swann’s absence from the slip cordon has not helped.
All eyes initially will be on Prior behind the stumps. A wicketkeeper is often a good barometer of a fielding side and Prior’s shoddy work in the second Test against Sri Lanka was reflective of a broader malaise. For England’s prospects, and his own, he cannot afford too many more.
England: On the other hand, England know Peter Moores pretty well. He has a different dynamic within the team than when he was last here – the man who brought him down last time, Pietersen, is no longer there, for one. Cook will be easier to work with.
But it does feel, particularly in this case, that sometimes a side’s problems stem from far beyond the coaching. The England side have issues Moores will struggle to solve. For instance, how does he find a spinner, for instance, when there isn’t one?
India: At times, it can be difficult to recall the identity of India’s coach. In a country where cricket attracts so much attention, it is remarkable how invisible Duncan Fletcher can be.
In part, it could be because he has not, in three years, given a single interview to an Indian publication or broadcast channel.
He has been unable to arrest India’s Test slide away from home, but has, presumably, begun to mould a younger, more-malleable side in the manner he prefers.
Or maybe not.
And who knows what impact he will ultimately have? Win or lose, it is unlikely to make much difference to him or his position.
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Published: July 8, 2014 04:00 AM