India's former batting great talks to mid-day about the challenges and opportunities MS Dhoni & Co will face against England in the five-Test series
There are several factors that are against India when they take on England in the first Test that begins at Trent Bridge today.
Firstly, India haven't won an overseas Test in 14 matches. Then, there are only three players (skipper MS Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma) in this team who have the experience of playing Test cricket in England. The visitors are also without their most-experienced pacer Zaheer Khan, who injured himself during the Indian Premier League.
While critics have written off Team India's chances of banishing their away blues, batting great VVS Laxman remains upbeat about Dhoni & Co's chances of bettering their performance this time, and tips the visitors as favourites.
Excerpts from the interview with mid-day:
On India playing a five-match Test series since 2002:
It's a great experience for this Indian team to play a five-Test series. Throughout my career I was able to play only one (West Indies in 2001-02). It is a completely different experience. It will give our players enough opportunity to do well.
On starting the series at bowler-friendly Trent Bridge:
Playing at Trent Bridge is a good experience. We have usually done well there. In 2007, we won at Trent Bridge to win the series (1-0). In 2002, we drew, so it's been a good ground for the Indians. From what I am hearing, the wicket is dry which will suit us. We have to just wait and see what kind of combination MS Dhoni will play in the first Test.
India's Virat Kohli (right) tries to latch on to a catch while Ravindra Jadeja and Mahendra Singh Dhoni (left) look on during a practice session on the eve of their first Test against England at Trent Bridge in Nottingham yesterday. Pic/Getty Images
On bettering the 2011 performance this time:
Our last tour was disappointing and frustrating. It was frustrating as we had a lot of injury issues to key players and we didn't have the right combinations. Also, Zaheer got injured in the first Test. This time it's a good opportunity to beat England. We have the talent to do well. I was quite impressed with the way our youngsters played in South Africa and New Zealand. We've got the talent and potential. What's important is how well you do in the first innings. Also, how the bowlers fare. In England, it's important to get a good score in the first innings, so that the bowlers have an opportunity to take 20 wickets. Definitely, India start as favourites, and I am sure that if they play to potential they can win the series.
On India's inexperience factor:
It will be a great opportunity for the youngsters to showcase their talent. Even though they have not played a Test match (in England), they have the experience of playing in English conditions. Last year, they played the Champions Trophy and didn't lose a single game. Most players, who were part of the Champions Trophy-winning team, are also part of this tour. They know English conditions. Obviously, Test match demands more mental discipline and better strategy. But I am sure the Champions Trophy experience will help them.
On Dhoni's captaincy:
He has done very well as far as the transition is concerned and has handled the resources really well. A captain is as good as his team and it is important that everyone take responsibility for their performance. Dhoni did an excellent job in maintaining a good dressing room environment when we lost in England and Australia. A lot of credit has to go to the skipper. We've had enough opportunity to know that he's one of the best captains the world has ever seen, and he will lead from the front this time in England too. I firmly believe Dhoni and (coach Duncan) Fletcher have played a key role in the team's transition. I'm impressed with how Fletcher has allowed our youngsters to flourish.
On India's bowling:
We've got talent and potential. I've been with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma during the IPL. Bhuvi is the most skillful bowler I have seen in my career. Ishant bowls his heart out. I am sure both will have a huge impact in England. Mohd Shami's pace will complement both. We have the potential and we will have to wait and see which spinner plays. I will go with (Ravichandran) Ashwin as he is a complete bowler. His maturity will help India to do well.
On roping in Rahul Dravid to help the team prepare:
Rahul was the most successful Indian batsman in English conditions. He has got runs against two key England pacers —James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Youngsters, especially batsmen, will learn a lot from him. Given the kind of experience and exposure, Rahul will be invaluable to the youngsters.
On India's young guns:
My first tours to South Africa, Australia and England taught me a lot and helped make me a better player. I am sure at the end of this tour, the youngsters will evolve as Test players and play to their potential. My advice to them is to be disciplined mentally which is very critical in English conditions — don't take too much pressure and enjoy the game.