Indian cricket is gripped with build-up fever for the India vs England series — one of the most important home series in recent years. But where is coach Duncan Fletcher? He should have been summoned to the country by his employers to watch not only England’s warm-up matches, but also some domestic cricket.
Save skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, all of India’s Test men are slugging it out on the first-class scene. Shouldn’t the coach be seen at venues? England have not been able to win a Test series on Indian soil since 1984-85, but that does not mean they are complete non-favourites to do the incredible. The Indian selectors have got some flak for not picking specialist spinners in the India ‘A’ team which played the Englishmen a few days ago at the Brabourne Stadium. Were they acting on instructions from the key men around the team? Fat chance!
There is a three-day camp planned before the Test action kicks off in Ahmedabad on November 15. What can be achieved in three days, one wonders. A critical home series demands a longer camp just like the one John Wright had before the 2001 Test series against Australia which reached epic proportions.
The Englishmen’s preparation cannot be underestimated. After training in Dubai, they are already into their second tour game.
However, England’s preparation and strength notwithstanding, their batsmen will be severely tested on rank turners. Zaheer Khan may be the only pace bowler needed in the playing XI although it is important that a 100 per cent fit bowler is kept in the squad in an emergency. Harbhajan Singh could well be part of an India Test XI again, sharing the spin bowling load with possible makeshift opening bowler R Ashwin and Yuvraj Singh.
Yuvraj has done a great deal to strengthen his case and there’s a good chance Suresh Raina will not be in the scheme of things at least for the initial Tests. There are options beyond Raina too. Mumbai’s Ajinkya Rahane has done his chances a world of good with a century against Railways and Bengal’s Manoj Tiwary is showing the kind of appetite that can challenge the regulars.
Although Rahane has told the media that he is willing to bat anywhere in the order, he must continue playing in the middle order where is best-suited. Far too many middle order batsmen in Indian cricket history have been sacrificed at the altar of the opening position. With Yuvraj coming in at No 6, India’s batting will run deep. Dhoni at No 7 followed by Harbhajan and Ashwin, who have two and one Test centuries respectively to their record. Advantage India!