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Indians look to tame English lions

From G Unnikrishnan, Ahmedabad, Nov 14, 2012, DHNS:

Underperforming hosts’ stalwarts will hope to find form as they run into Cook’s army at Motera

England cricketers (L-R) Matt Prior, James Anderson, captain Alastair Cook, and Kevin Pietersen inspect the pitch at The Sardar Patel Stadium at Motera in Ahmedabad on November 14, 2012. England plays their first test cricket match against India from November 15 in Ahmedabad. AFP

The prelude to the first Test between India and England, beginning at the Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium here on Thursday, has revolved around the Great Indian Revenge Plan -- how the Indians are going to offer Englishmen some rank turners, a deadly trap for visitors, often perceived a clueless lot against top-quality spin.

Even the Indian players have asserted the need to prepare spin-friendly pitches so that India can avenge their 4-0 mauling at Old Blighty last year. It was bit like watching a Clint Eastwood movie where the wronged hero returns for vengeance.

But all the hoopla has taken the attention away from the vulnerability of India, especially from the struggles of some of the stalwarts who have served country with distinction over a number of years.

On a different day, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and Gautam Gambhir, the fulcrums of India’s batting and bowling, would have instilled fear in the minds of opposition. But on this instance, the quartet has gone almost unnoticed. R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and Harbhajan Singh have hogged all the limelight, and the expectancy of them damaging the reputation of English batsmen seemed to have enraptured the imagination of a nation.

Even the English camp appears to have forgotten about the stalwarts’ presence as only James Anderson spoke about not giving too much respect to Tendulkar, a method the English pace bowler believes will blunt the Mumbaikar’s edge. How times have changed!
A prolonged lean patch can have that effect on even the best. The ability of the aforementioned quartet to rise above the occasion has been proved several times in the past, but they haven’t been able to produce a telling effort for a considerable period of time.

Tendulkar’s last hundred was in January 2011, Sehwag’s dates back to November 2010, Gambhir had last crossed the three-figure mark in November 2010, while the last time Zaheer took a five-for in an innings was in October 2010. It’s a massive gap, and that appears to have widened even more in the case of the senior four because they are the main pillars of this Indian line-up.

In that context, it wouldn’t be a prudent move to prepare rank-turners for the series as England spin unit containing Graeme Swann, Monty Panesar and Samit Patel, though viewed more as a relief option for the pace bowlers, can bring some serious harm in favourable conditions.

There wouldn’t be too many arguments against the progress Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara have made as Test batsmen, and the readiness of Yuvraj Singh, almost certain to figure in the playing eleven on the morrow, to play Tests after proving his endurance in domestic cricket. But to leave all the run-making job to them against a capable bowling unit like England could be a move fraught with danger.

It also has to be taken into consideration that the nature of the relaid Motera pitch will be impossible to predict during the course of the next five days, adding that much more intrigue to a contest that has already seen good bit of drama even before single ball has been bowled.

Zaheer also has to deal with an additional problem of his fitness, though skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni allayed any such fears, saying that both Zaheer and Umesh Yadav are ready to take on England, that also meant no place for Harbhajan in the playing eleven on the morrow.

Back to the travails of the big four. Perhaps, a bit of less attention is what the embattled quartet needs at present as the relative obscurity may calm their minds, allowing them to regain their rhythm.

It’s imperative for them to conjure some impressive efforts for India need to preserve an awesome record at home against all comers. They haven’t lost a series at their own backyard since getting beaten by Australia in 2004, and only South Africa have managed to beat India in a Test at home since England defeated the hosts at Mumbai in 2006.

So, the phoney war is over, and time for the real deal has come. But an element of uncertainty still hangs over just about everything related to this Test -- pitch, form of batsmen and whether the spinners will be able to live up to the expectations. And a Test series can’t hope for a better beginning.

Teams (from): India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, R Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Pragyan Ojha, Umesh Yadav, Murali Vijay, Ashok Dinda, Ishant Sharma, Harbhajan Singh, Ajinkya Rahane.

England: Alastair Cook (capt), Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Samit Patel, Matt Prior (wk), Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Meaker, Joe Root, Graham Onions, Eoin Morgan. Umpires: Asad Rauf, Tony Hill, Third Umpire: Sudhir Asnani, Match referee: Roshan Mahanama.


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