The outcome of each series in the 80 years of Test cricket between England and India has always been a significant moment in the history of Indian cricket.
The earlier years were dominated by the strong Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) sides and although India did have a few memorable individual performances, the end was predictable.
India won their 1st Test win in 1952 at Madras against a weak English side. After nearly 20 years came the glorious series triumph at the Oval in England in 1971. The pompous English cricket set-up in those days held a three-match series, considering the Indian side as underdogs. The home series in India brought out two unique features of Indian cricket - spin bowling and close-in fielding.
India boasted of the world’s best spinners in (Bishan Singh) Bedi, (B S Chandrasekhar) Chandra, (EAS) Prasanna and Venkat (Srinivas Venkataraghavan), but the close-to-the-bat catching of (Eknath) Solkar, (Ajit) Wadekar, Abid Ali, (Sunil) Gavaskar and Venkat gave them that extra zing. Tiger Pataudi, the architect of this strategy realised, that India’s strength was spin and so a turning wicket was the best solution for a win. This does seem to be the strategy even now.
As cricketers, we did understand the significance of it, as when we toured abroad, we played on wickets that suited them. In England and New Zealand, one had to play on green, seaming wickets, whereas in Australia and West Indies, bouncy tracks were the fodder for the day.
Gradually, with covered wickets, very good protective equipment - wonderful bats - and plenty of cricket, the home advantage, especially in India, has become a thing of the past. IPL cricket has given cricketers from overseas the opportunity to play on typical low bounce Indian tracks, giving them the exposure to practice their shot making and defence.
The 2012 Test series will be a very hard fought one. India have a reputation of redeeming themselves against a side that humiliated them in their backyard and England require a series win in India, which has eluded them for nearly 18 years.
The wonderful game of Test cricket makes and breaks heroes and reputations. One is only as good as the last innings and a new day leads to a new beginning. In the 135 years of Test cricket, many cricketers have been humbled and humiliated by the great game.
For India, MS Dhoni has to re-establish his credentials as a captain and a 'keeper. He has to be more innovative and positive. One does not see him making enthusiastic bowling and fielding changes and at times, he drifts in rudderless fashion.
Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag are both such exciting players. Both will need to contribute significantly if India has to perform well. A good opening partnership is essential for the middle order to reap the benefit. Both of them will also be under further pressure because of a young brigade waiting to take their spot.
The great Sachin Tendulkar also needs to fire on all cylinders. One marvels at his zest for the game and his commitment to stay fit and focus at the highest level. He does look all set to make another contribution to Indian cricket and my only advice to him is to walk in with his head held high, with a sparkle in his eyes to clearly signify that he is the best. His positive body language is essential in India stamping her presence.
The positives of the Indian side are Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Umesh Yadav and R Ashwin. The first two are essential as they are young and agile and also required for their close-to-the-wicket fielding. One does feel sorry for Suresh Raina as he did get a half century in his last Test match. His omission did come as a surprise as he would have been an ideal 12th man.
India feel their strength is in the area of spin. The wicket being prepared looks to be moulded for it. The selectors have iterated it quite blatantly by not including spinners in any of the England practice games.
England on the other hand, is well aware of what is in store for them. They have acclimatised themselves by practicing in Dubai and playing three warm-up matches in India.
They have come with their best spinners and their fielders look sharp close to the wicket. The England side has some tall-scoring batsmen in Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pieterson and Ian Bell.
I still feel the difference will be in the pace department. They have two outstanding bowlers in James Anderson and Stuart Broad, and Tim Bresnan has the ability to surprise the batsmen with his steep bounce. His rugby frame does give him the muscular shoulders to do it.
The toss will be an important aspect. A newly laid wicket normally turns out to be dual paced with a low bounce. It needs time to settle and so batting first on it could be an advantage as the wicket most likely will crumble as the game goes on.
England’s celebration of Guy Fawkes and India’s Diwali, both festivals of light, crackers and bon-fires will draw to an end as things heat up in Ahmedabad, but both teams will spew fire with some cracking strokeplay.
Meanwhile, Dhoni will pray for some luck at the toss.
Yajurvindra Singh has been part of two India vs England Test series - at home in 1976-77 and 1979 in England
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