India face stiff test as English odyssey begins
Somerset first stop for Dhoniís men in arduous two-month tour
In a strangely-coincidental way, Mahendra Singh Dhoni comes here as a captain with an accent on safety-first approach, an accusation Rahul Dravid had to face before he bowed out of captaincy after settling for a 1-0 series win over England when India toured here last.
With a chance to enforce follow-on, Dravid instead opted to bat again in the final Test which eventually ended in a draw, drawing heavy flak from all and sundry for the cautious tactic. Dhoni too followed similar logic against the West Indies to maintain the 1-0 lead intact, a decision that has not gone down well with many former cricketers and critics alike.
Knowing Dhoni, he will be least perturbed by all the criticism that is going on about his move, but against England, ranked third in Test rankings with only one point separating them from the second-placed South Africa, he knows his side will have to play out of its skin to tame the opponents in their own den.
Having wrapped up another series win against the West Indies, Dhoni and company arrived here on Tuesday afternoon but more than the victory, despite which they had to lose two ranking points, what will gladden the Indian skipper is the arrival of reinforcements in some of the key players who were missing in the Caribbean for various reasons.
Despite Ishant Sharma’s splendid show, India’s attack often looked directionless in the absence of pace spearhead Zaheer Khan.
While the left-armer’s addition will add more teeth and experience to the bowling, the batting will wear a much stronger cloak with the return of Gautam Gambhir at the top and Sachin Tendulkar in the middle.
Gambhir and Virender Sehwag, still recuperating from the shoulder operation, would have made a devastating pair at the top of the three but Abhinav Mukund has shown that he can hold his own at the highest level.
Along with Suresh Raina and Ishant, both under pressure to perform, Abhinav made the most of the opportunity provided to him.
After the initial diffidence, the left-hander knuckled down and played two grinding innings. He may not have impressed with the kind of strokeplay he dishes out at the domestic level, but the Chennai lad proved that he can hang in there and make significant contributions. He couldn’t build on the start in the first Test and missed a fifty in the second by a whisker. The half-century in the third Test only showed his consistent growth.
On the other hand, his State-mate M Vijay was a big let-down as was Virat Kohli. While Vijay, who is probably more talented than Abhinav, missed out on a big chance to make the third opener's spot his own, Kohli lost the race to seal the place in the Test middle order.
Where Kohli floundered Raina once again installed himself as the top contender in the middle order.
He was patient and to a great extent negated the weakness against the short-ball. With English bowlers sure to target his rib-cage, the success, even if it came against the lesser bowlers, in the Caribbean should hold him in good stead against England.
The three-day match tour here against Somerset, which will also boast England Test skipper Andrew Strauss, from July 15 will sure throw up some pointers as to how the series will shape up.