"--IANS/RAY"
By Ashis Ray

Nottingham, July 8 (IANS/RAY) India will be playing a full, five-Test cricket series in England after 55 years. They were stripped of this honour after being whitewashed 0-5 in 1959.

Following this, one of England's star batsmen of that era, Colin Cowdrey, contemptuously expressed the view that international cricket should be divided into a big league and a little league, with India relegated to the latter.

But the Indians were consigned to three Tests not merely because they were inadequate, but also because they attracted poor gate receipts in that period. Statistically, India fared worse three years ago in the 0-4 clean sweep against them.

Yet, ironically, their reward is a restoration of a best-of-five contest. Why? Because India-based TV companies and advertisers disburse heftier bucks than their counterparts in any other country when India tour England, not on any cricketing merit.

In 2011, England were rising to a crescendo; and in comprehensively eclipsing India, they legitimately attained the No.1 ranking in Test cricket or the mantle of world champions in the eyes of the purist.

Now, they are visibly over the hill, having been humiliated 0-5 in Australia in winter and conceded a first ever series win at home to Sri Lanka last month. They are, akin to the Indians, rebuilding from ruins.

At the same time, England on their own soil are unlikely to succumb easily. Indeed, the first Test at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, starting Wednesday could present the most favourable conditions for their faster bowlers, and consequently the stiffest challenge to the tourists. Pitches for the remaining Tests could be slower or may even turn.

The curator at Trent Bridge is likely to leave a generous measure of grass on the pitch and a residue of moisture. Therefore, the first morning could well transpire to be a seam and swing bowler's paradise.

Subsequently, the lateral movement may subside, but there could remain a healthy bounce as a result of a hard pitch.

So, it would not be surprising if the hosts play four quick bowlers - James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Liam Plunkett and one from Chris Jordan, Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes. But Anderson, their lynchpin, has lost velocity and is, thus, not as penetrative as before.

Confronting the quartet will be a batting line-up with no exposure whatsoever to Tests in England, other than captain Mahendra Dhoni, who can hardly be described as a reliable wielder of the willow in Tests outside the Indian subcontinent. Yet, the young Turks are not unpromising.

Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara are already among the world's top batsmen. And Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay and Ajikya Rahane were among the runs in the winter's sojourn of South Africa and New Zealand. But for the failure of the Indian bowlers to finish the job, the Indians would have ended the famine they have suffered overseas since the spring of 2011.

The experiments carried out in the two tour matches leading up to the first Test suggest India may be considering dropping the talented but at present slightly disappointing batsman Rohit Sharma and drafting in Stuart Binny as a fourth seamer who can also bat.

This would impose a heavy burden on the top five batsmen, with Dhoni at No.6 and Ravindra Jadeja, who has looked hesitant to go forward to fast bowlers at No.7, constituting quite a gamble.

Yet India are in a quandary. Ishant Sharma has made little progress even after seven years in international cricket; and if anything, today poses lesser hostility. Mohammed Shami, the pick of the bowlers in recent times, looks wayward. And Bhuvneshwar Kumar may struggle to contain good batsmen after the ball has lost its shine.

However, they may all profit from helpful surfaces and occasional overcast skies. Indeed, if Binny can repeat his father Roger's feats of the 1983 World Cup and the 1986 Test series, that would be an unexpected bonus.

Most importantly, Dhoni as skipper needs to think on his feet to tackle the vagaries of Test cricket in foreign fields.

--IANS/RAY

abr/vt


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