Forget Windies, the real title bout is India Vs England

By Richard Sydenham

England are currently taking on Sri Lanka and India are on tour in the West Indies. But without wishing to sound disrespectful, there’s only one series to whet the appetite and it’s not any of these.

The four-Test rubber between England and India in July and August is the real deal and the one that most neutrals, and certainly fans, players and staff from both sides will be relishing most.

Let’s face it, Sri Lanka with Murali outside of Asia struggled, but Sri Lanka ‘without’ Murali is a poor outfit anywhere and overly reliant on its batting talent. And while West Indies have some exciting talent coming through, they are not a side likely to scare the might of India or get close to them, especially without Chris Gayle.

So, although there is still much to play for at The Rose Bowl next week and in the Caribbean, I think it’s only right that we skip a few weeks and gaze into the future to see what we should expect from Andrew Strauss’s England team when faced with the world’s No. 1 that they are seeking to eventually topple.

Andrew Strauss' English team would be no pushovers. Getty Images

And isn’t it refreshing that, along with South Africa, both teams are sniffing one another’s strengths and weaknesses out in a bid to rule the world. No longer is it the all-conquering West Indies or Australia who dominated for 30 years from the mid 1970s. These are now once-great teams in decline who can only aspire to what England and India currently have in terms of playing quality and bench strength.

Rahul Dravid led India to a 1-0 series win in 2007, but although it was a historic first series triumph in England for 21 years, the scoreline was a little misleading for England should have, and would have, won the first Test comfortably at Lord’s if rain had not intervened.

Still, a mature innings from MS Dhoni helped the Indians stave off certain defeat. I believe that innings, although not one of his characteristically aggressive efforts, was the making of Dhoni and demonstrated that there was more to him than big-hitting, a marketable personality and a ponytail, as he had then. He showed he could knuckle down and fight when required.

Dhoni as skipper has gone on to better things, as we know. Equally, Strauss’s England will be a different proposition this time. Back then England were caught up in an unfortunate lack of clarity surrounding the captaincy situation. It was also Peter Moore’s first summer as coach and half of the team did not buy into his methods, especially Kevin Pietersen.

Michael Vaughan led in that series and his graceful century at Trent Bridge was one of his best but the degeneration of his knee by that stage always meant that you felt the next Test might be his last. We felt it, the selectors felt it and I’m sure even Vaughan himself must have had a few nagging doubts. In the event he was gone a year later, after Dale Steyn and poor form had forced his hand rather than the knee.

But this time Strauss and Team Director Andy Flower are a united, immovable and shrewd team within a team and you can bet that they are already discussing tactics for the Indian series. Planning ahead is a big thing for Flower. He will try to keep Strauss’s mind clear for the Sri Lankan task ahead but rest assured the India challenge will already have been addressed.

England’s batting is as solid and reliable now as it has ever been, maybe since the powerhouse era of Compton, Cowdrey, May, Hutton, Graveney and Co. in the 1950s.

Alastair Cook was out on his ear last year if some of his detractors had their way, and there were many, but what guts he has showed to claw his way back to his current form. His partnerships with Strauss will be key in overcoming the new ball and hoping the middle-order can play more aggressively against the likes of Harbhajan Singh, who always remains a threat wherever he bowls.

Jonathan Trott will relish his first crack at India and they probably won’t be relishing him. His incredible Bradmanesque form has to continue if England are to succeed. At No. 3 he is England’s Rahul Dravid, who has always protected Sachin Tendulkar from being exposed too early. Trott does the same for Pietersen, Bell and Morgan.

As for KP, how good are India’s left-arm spinners? Should Murali Kartik be considered for his success in England with Middlesex and Somerset and obviously to probe KP’s weaknesses against left-arm spin. Miss the opportunity to nail him and he will nail you. That will be the message from new India coach Duncan Fletcher, who presided over England from 1999 to 2007.

With pitches expected to be drier at the backend of the season, and with so many batsmen from both teams in great form, I expect lots of runs. Therefore, the bowling becomes key between the teams’ bowling talismen: It is the battle of the Kings of Swing James Anderson Vs Zaheer Khan; and the duel between off-spinning stars, Graeme Swann Vs Harbhajan Singh. These match-ups could dictate the series.

But whatever will occur, let’s just hope the cricket is pulsating. As much as we enjoy a gripping Ashes battle, it is time that two other teams went toe to toe and created Test cricket’s latest series spectacle.

Published Date: Jun 10, 2011 09:17 am | Updated Date: Jun 10, 2011 11:52 am