Any big series is about the small battles; the small battles that have to be won because you don’t win a war without winning the battles. India and England are going to lock horns in a series that will decide the best team in the world, there could be no bigger setting – at Lord’s… the 100th Test between the two teams and the 2000th Test in the history of the game.
The series isn’t going to be won or lost on the first day. There’s a lot more to this and here is a list of the keys to victory. In my opinion, the side that wins these battles will win the series.
Handling the weather breaks
One often hears “it’s drizzling and the players are making their way back to the pavilion”. To most people, that might sound like fun but no cricketers likes that. I’m probably a little biased when I say that the bowlers suffer a little bit more. A bowler’s job is a lot more physical than that of the batsman and warming up all over again is a bit of a pain. And then there is the whole thing about starting from zero all over again. It isn’t easy on anyone. The waiting grates your nerves because when you are at the ground, you want to play, not sit in the dressing room doing nothing. That’s the problem, but you can only grin and bear it.
Openers versus Zaheer/Ishant
England have been very successful in their last few series and that success has most often been built on the first three batsman. For India to do well, Zaheer needs to take wickets and that needs to start at the very top. If we can get the opener out of the way, we will have a chance of controlling the innings. The side that controls the flow of the match will have the best chance of coming out on top and there’s no way India will do that without getting through the openers quickly. Andrew Strauss showed good touch during the tour game, but Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott have been exceptional for the past one year.
Kevin Pietersen, the enigma
They say he isn’t focussed enough, they say he isn’t motivated enough, but like Virender Sehwag, he remains a batsman who can take the game away from you. And once he is at his confident best, he is difficult to stop. Pace and spin, he plays them all easily. If he’s down, then you want to keep him there. He can be the difference between a 300-plus total going over 500, very quickly too.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the batsman
Dhoni will need to step up as a batsman. Over the last year, he’s struggled and this will be one series where India will need him to bat and bat well. In the West Indies, we saw the difference that a partnership lower down the order can make. In England, the conditions will be different and that is why batsmen like Dhoni will need to show what they are really capable of of. Raina and Dhoni together must get us to safety when the top order fails. Matt Prior has done it for England and those 100-120 runs that the lower order makes can be of great help. There are 7-8 players in the team who have been around, well, forever. They don’t really need to be told what to do. The cricket takes care of itself.
Rahul Dravid, the rock
Abhinav Mukund and Gautam Gambhir are on their first tour of England and it won’t be easy for them. Which is why Rahul is key, he needs to bat well and it helps that he comes into the series in some kind of form. Tendulkar hasn’t played a lot of cricket, in fact almost no Test cricket since January. And that is why he needs a Rahul, at the other end, to comfort him. A lot of people were wondering around a couple of months ago whether we need Rahul in the Test team at all… but in my opinion, after the tours of England and Australia, they will have a very different view.
Bhajji, the bowler
Harbhajan did very well as a batsman in the West Indies, but I seriously hope we aren’t saying the same thing at the end of the series because it would mean that our batsmen would’ve struggled. There has been a lot of suggestion that he will play the holding role, but you don’t want a bowler who has taken over 400 wickets to play a holding role. You want him to attack and take wickets. That’s when he is at his best and it will be tough to expect just the pacemen to take 10 wickets in every innings. Graeme Swann has shown the way, Harbhajan will hopefully follow and supersede him.
Practising to succeed
There was a time when tours were much longer, but now everything needs to be wrapped up in three months. Still, we would have needed at least two tour games to get going. Not to find out whether we are good, but just to get some miles. To see how far we can push ourselves. Zaheer Khan didn’t bowl in the second innings of the tour match mainly because he would have realised that in three days, there is a Test coming up and he wanted to be fresh for it. But the practice would have done him good. It would have done everyone good. Just get the feeling that we might go into the Test a little undercooked.