India eye revenge as Test series gets underway tomorrow
Billed as the revenge series, India would aim to pay England back in the same coin when the two teams renew cricketing rivalry when they go into what promises to be an engrossing four-match Test rubber here from tomorrow.
India had suffered a humiliating 0-4 series whitewash when they had visited England in July-August last year and would like to avenge the defeat on the back of its spinners in favourable home conditions.
England have not won a Test series in India in nearly 28 years and reversing the trend would a tough job for the world number two team.
They have been handicapped by the leg-injury to their 6-foot 7-inch fast bowler Steven Finn, who could trouble the Indian batsmen with his steep bounce even on the slow pitches.
Finn had little cricket under his belt since landing on the country's shores as he picked up a thigh muscle strain on the first day of their tour opening game in Mumbai.
Indian paceman Ishant Sharma is down with viral fever but he was not in the running for a place in the playing eleven ahead of Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav, who are likely to open the new ball attack for the home side.
Ashok Dinda has been called up as late cover for Sharma but would warm the bench barring a last-minute injury to Zaheer or Yadav.
India's main weapon would be the spin trio of Pragyan Ojha, Ravichandran Ashwin and veteran Harbhajan Singh, who has been included in the side after a gap of more than a year.
Off-spinner Ashwin and left-arm spinner Ojha have played only a handful of Tests in their budding careers but have proved that they could bowl well in tandem in helpful home conditions.
Ashwin had grabbed the man of the series awards in the last two home series – against the West Indies last year and New Zealand this August. Ojha had complemented him nicely.
England batsmen, including the recalled Kevin Pietersen, have had very good preparation for the series though they did not play against a top quality spinner.
Barring a few overs from Test discard Amit Mishra in their warm-up game against Haryana, the visitors have faced little known slow bowlers or part-timers.
The visitors have a good batting line-up led by captain Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Pietersen, Ian Bell and Samit Patel who play the turning ball well.
All of them, barring Bell, have got centuries in the warm-up games and how well Ashwin and Ojha bowl against this strong line-up would be key to India's success.
Cook is likely to be partnered by uncapped Nick Compton, who is in good nick, but India can take advantage of the new combination by putting the debutant under pressure.
India's batting looks strong on paper even without Rahul Dravid and V V S Laxman, who retired early this year.
Though openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have not fired big for long, the home conditions would be relished by this very experienced duo as the new ball is not expected to do much on the re-laid Sardar Patel track.
The openers have not scored a century for a long time, but more than the tons it's a good opening partnership that would be looked upon from the Delhi pair so that the middle order batsmen could build on that for an imposing total.
The way the two batsmen take upon the expected opposing fast bowling line-up of James Anderson, Tim Bresnan and Stuart Broad, also coming back from a heel injury lay-off, would be another crucial factor.
Virat Kohli has become India's lynchpin in batting over the last few series, while Cheteshwar Pujara has the ability to either go for the shots after a good start or play the waiting game if the need is to steady the ship.
Yuvraj Singh is expected to play his first Test since the visit to England after which he underwent treatment for cancer.
Though he has spent time out in the middle when scoring a double century in the Duleep Trophy, the big test would be to bat after long stretches on the field.
But he also brings with him the option of slow left-arm bowling especially against Pietersen who he has dismissed quite a few times though the tall Englishman has termed him as a 'pie chucker'.
On a turning track, England spin spearhead Graeme Swann would test the Indian batsmen. Swann is on the doorsteps of claiming 200 Test wickets.
Part-time left-arm slow bowler Patel is not expected to trouble the Indian batsmen unless the track breaks up.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (C), Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Cheteshwar Pujara, R Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Pragyan Ojha, Zaheer Khan, Ajinkya Rahane, Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma, Murali Vijay and Ashok Dinda.
England: Alastair Cook (C), James Anderson, Ian Bell, Tim Bresnan, Nick Compton, Steven Finn, Samit Patel, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott, Sturt Broad, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Graham Onions, Eoin Morgan, Monty Panesar and Stuart Meaker.
Umpires: Aleem Dar and Tony Hill
Third umpire: Sudhir Asnani
Match Referee: Roshan Mahanama.
Match begins at: 9:30am (IST).