India 'A' test for England ahead of gruelling series

Cricket Practice match:Rainas side looks to fire opening salvo

India 'A' test for England ahead of gruelling series

England’s cricketers start their preparations for what promises to be a gruelling Test series against India by taking on India ‘A’ in a three-day warm-up game here from Tuesday.

Led by opener Alastair Cook, who made a fine debut in India with a half century and an unbeaten century to boot at Nagpur in March 2006, the Englishmen have arrived with a mission – to become the first team from their shores to defeat India in a Test rubber since David Gower’s 1984-85 tourists.

England have won a few Tests on the Indian soil, notably in Cook’s debut series when Indian batsmen crumbled against the spin of long-forgotten Shaun Udal and the pace of James Anderson and Andrew Flintoff, but have never notched a Test series win after that 84-85 series.

England are coming off a 0-2 series loss to South Africa that also took away their top ranking in Tests. Now they face a determined-looking India, who are waiting to avenge the humiliating 4-0 whitewash sustained last year in England. That the visitors had practiced extensively for three days in Dubai against their own spin bowlers Graeme Swann, Monty Panesar and Samit Patel at the ICC Global Cricket Academy is a clear sign of what they expect would be the biggest hurdle here.

However, the home team, in the warm-up game led by Test middle-order aspirant Suresh Raina, does not have any spin bowlers to boast of, viewed as a deliberate ploy to deprive the visiting batsmen any practice against slow bowling. The return of Kevin Pietersen as the 17th additional member after his recent patch-up with team-mates would be another interesting piece of the puzzle. How quickly the batsman, who had scored a classy hundred on his last Test visit to India in 2008, gels with his team-mates would be watched with a lot of interest.

The retirement of former skipper Andrew Strauss has also come as a headache for England as they are still searching for a suitable opening partner for Cook ahead of the opening Test at Ahmedabad from November 15. Rookie opener Nick Compton, grandson of former England great Dennis who had played in the Ranji Trophy championship in India but never came on a Test tour, is one option for the visiting team.

The match would also be the first chance for the much-touted England pace attack to get used to the slow pace and low bounce of Indian pitches. The spin trio of Swann, Panesar and Patel, on the other hand, would be licking their lips in anticipation.

From the home side’s point of view, the match is a very important one to sort out one or two batting slots in the Test team, if not immediately but in the near future.

There are three players vying for the reserve opener’s slot — Murali Vijay, Abhinav Mukund and Ajinkya Rahane — the last-named being part of the Test squad as the third opener behind regulars Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir.

The match could also be a direct contest for the no 6 slot between incumbent Raina and comeback man Yuvraj Singh, who is coming into the game on the back of a double hundred for North Zone in the Duleep Trophy. Also in the running for middle order slots are Manoj Tiwary, Ambati Rayudu, a late replacement for Shikhar Dhawan who sat out of the match as it clashed with his wedding, Ashok Meneria and Robin Bist, from Rajasthan.

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