Testing times begin for Dhoni’s men
India’s batting display will hinge on the starts, while the pacers will relish the conditions
The postcard visuals around Trent Bridge, the venue of the first Test here from Wednesday, offer diverse clues to the past, the present and the whimsical English weather.
A picture of delighted England players after an Ashes victory seems poignant in retrospect as it also has Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott. Both have now vanished from the England Test ranks, one forced into exile while the other is seeking answers from the shadows of his mind.
Walk around the venue and you will gaze at another banner that proclaims: “Our Indian summer is almost upon us.” With India playing a series of five Tests in England after it last did the same in 1959, there is the added incentive of luring more fans to the seats as well as the television sets.
Stare at the sky, and it is a contrasting mix of bright sunshine and the odd dark cloud that force pedestrians and cyclists to hurry. It is summer out here but when the minimum and maximum temperatures hover from 11 to 20 degrees with a forecast for rain during the Test, it can get taxing for the visitors hailing from the tropics.
Much will hinge on the starts that Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay can string together along with what Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli build upon in the middle-order.
The openers have had a mixed run with Vijay excelling in South Africa and tapering off in New Zealand and Dhawan finding his mettle against Brendon McCullum’s men.
Kohli stayed consistent with hundreds on both those tours while Pujara excelled in South Africa and slumped in New Zealand. Below them, Rohit Sharma hasn’t replicated the success of his debut series against the West Indies but Ajinkya Rahane has grown in stature while Gautam Gambhir hovers in the sidelines.
A ground — that nurtured the great Harold Larwood, who shed the grime off the coal-mines and flung the red cherry at an alarming pace — might hint at success for the fast men. However recent games in England, especially the ones involving Sri Lanka, showed that the pitches are slowing down and with venues enhancing drainage facilities, the havoc that moisture in the pitch wreaks, has been muted. The host counties wouldn’t complain as they want Tests that last five days.
Yet, India’s fast bowling brigade of Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami, to name a few, will relish the conditions that should relatively ally with their shoulders unlike the surfaces back home.
It would be interesting though to see if the management opts for five bowlers and drops one batsman with seamer Stuart Binny stepping in as an all-round option.
Across the fence, England is searching for a toe-hold that has remained loose ever since the Ashes meltdown. Alastair Cook has suffered a drought while in 2011, he hammered a 294 against India. The other hero then — Ian Bell (235 and 159) — played second fiddle to Joe Root, Gary Ballance, Moeen Ali and Sam Robson recently against Sri Lanka.
As usual, the host will continue to bank on James Anderson and Stuart Broad to do a major chunk of incisions into the rival batting.
So far, it has been a bad sporting summer for England. The football team was knocked out of the FIFA World Cup in the group stage; Andy Murray failed to defend his Wimbledon title; and Sri Lanka humbled Cook’s men. Can India play ‘Robin Hood’ in the city that fostered his legend and aggravate England’s agony? M.S. Dhoni’s men have a tough challenge ahead.
The teams (from):
India: M.S. Dhoni (capt.), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Varun Aaron, Pankaj Singh, Stuart Binny, Ishwar Pandey and Wriddhiman Saha.
England: Alastair Cook (capt.), Ian Bell, Gary Ballance, Sam Robson, Joe Root, Moeen Ali, Matt Prior, James Anderson, Stuart Broad,Chris Jordan, Liam Plunkett, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes.
Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena & Bruce Oxenford; Third umpire: Ian Gould; Match referee: David Boon.
Play starts at 3.30 p.m. IST.