England need to show character against India (Preview)

December 10th, 2008 - 2:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Chennai, Dec 10 (IANS) After a dramatic and traumatic fortnight, England team’s individual and collective character would come under scrutiny when they take on a rampant India in the first Test at the M.A Chidambaram Stadium here Thursday.In the backdrop of the recent Mumbai terrorist attack that led to England packing their bags and leaving for home with two of the seven ODIs still to be played last month, the Test match is not without significance in the context of the ability of the players to put mind over matter.

If the Indians are on a high following the 5-0 lead they took in the ODI series that underlined the glaring disparity between the two teams in not just performance level but also leadership, then England would be hoping to feed on the new-found bonding and unity to rediscover the kind of form they showed in 2005 when they won the Ashes series at home.

Kevin Pietersen’s captaincy has come under increasing scrutiny in the wake of the drubbing England received in the ODI series, but he has shown that he is man enough to rally his players to do his bidding, including returning to India to continue the tour in an exacting environment. He would need all those qualities and some more on the field if he hopes to keep pace with the Indians who are in the midst of a dream run under Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s astute captaincy.

India, in fact, appears a settled combination with strength and depth in both batting and bowling. The recent 2-0 series win against world champions Australia has obviously put the hosts in good heart and it is more than likely that Dhoni would be keen on retaining the combination whose performance has exceeded all expectations.

Alistair Cook, the talented opener, perhaps summed it up succinctly when he said that it was important for England to overcome the many distractions, not the least the oppressive security and to carry on as professionals if they hope to win a Test match.

But then, England would have to be wary of the potent Indian batting that on its day can be destructive.

With Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir emerging as a dangerous and daring opening pair, and the likes of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V.V.S. Laxman, Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni to follow, India boast of a solid batting line-up that can blunt the sharpest of bowling attacks.

Likewise, India’s bowling attack is likely to the same with Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma sharing the new ball, and Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra heading the spin front.

However, the overcast weather conditions could tempt Indiathem to opt for a third specialist seamer in Munaf Patel for Mishra.

As for England, rather short on preparations, their composition could be much the same as the one that beat South Africa in the final match of the four-Test series that the Proteas won 2-1. Pietersen and left-arm spinner Monty Panesar topped the averages and the two will again be the central figures against India as also all-rounder Andrew Flintoff.

While Andrew Strauss, Cook, Ian Bell, Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Flintoff and wicket-keeper Tim Ambrose, should form the batting line-up, England might debate on a third seamer (Amjad Khan) or a second spinner Graeme Swann besides Monty Panesar, with Steve Harmison and James Anderson sharing the new ball.

However, the Indians might find it difficult to replicate their batting show against South Africa in the drawn Test match played here in March this year on a featherbed pitch on which Sehwag notched up a triple century.

Not much can be said of the pitch that is likely to be shorn of the little grass that it sports, but it might yet afford some encouraging bounce for the quicker bowlers before aiding spin in the latter half of the match as in the past.

The weather, that has been rather damp with intermittent showers in the past couple of days, has since turned sunny though the Met office has forecast some rains later this week. But if the rains stay away, then the conditions would be near perfect for an exciting contest.

The teams:

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain/wicketkeeper), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V.V.S. Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Amit Mishra, Subramaniam Badrinath, Murali Vijay, Munaf Patel and Pragyan Ojha.

England: Kevin Pietersen (captain/wicketkeeper), Andrew Strauss, Alistair Cook, Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood, Andrew Flintoff, Tim Ambrose, Steve Harmison, James Anderson, Monty Panesar, Amjad Khan, Owais Shah and Graeme Swann.

Umpires: Billy Bowden (New Zealand) and Daryl Harper (Australia).

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