| Sachin Tendulkar at Lord’s on Wednesday
London: Top gun Andrew Flintoff was the only one not available when England’s Test captain Michael Vaughan first admitted the Indians would be tougher than the West Indies, who were thrashed 2-0 earlier this summer.
Given the state of West Indies cricket (no, please don’t read much into their one-day win over England), it wasn’t exactly a rich compliment for Rahul Dravid and Co.
Since then, Vaughan has lost frontliner Steve Harmison and is almost certain to be without Matthew Hoggard as well. On paper, then, getting India out twice is going to be more daunting than ever.
Hoggard has developed back spasms and underwent an MRI scan. However, till late on Wednesday, an update wasn’t available.
Actually, given the Indian mediumpacers’ lack of experience, many feel even the visitors will struggle to get 20 wickets in every Test. Unless one Anil Kumble gets to play a bigger role than expected.
For now, the pundits appear convinced that the three-Test npower series is going to be dominated by the batters. Anything as long as the weather doesn’t call the shots.
While Dravid believes it will be a “pretty even” series, the legendary Ian Chappell holds a different view.
“There has been a lot of rain in recent weeks and more rain is expected... The conditions favour England and they start favourites,” he told The Telegraph.
Chappell added: “Having said that, it’s going to be one hell of an achievement if India do take the series...”
The Indians are, of course, aware that the last series win was 21 years ago (under the redoubtable Kapil Dev). As this surely is the last England tour for the Sachin Tendulkars, the next few weeks may see something special.
A word of caution, though: England haven’t lost at home for six years (and 11 series’), not since Steve Waugh’s Australians won the 2001 Ashes.
The Indians have generally been regarded as tigers at home, but the lion in these parts has been roaring too. Home advantage or not, it’s a bottomline which can’t be ignored.
Also, the Indians aren’t exactly comfortable against the left-handers. Quick Ryan Sidebottom is one and, then, there’s Monty Panesar. Eventually, the issue could well be settled by a single inspired performance.
At Lord’s, the Indians don’t have to scratch deep for inspiration as centurion on debut (1996) Sourav Ganguly is in the dressing room and lending moral support is our chief selector, Dilip Vengsarkar.
The Mumbaikar remains the only one to have posted a hundred in three successive Test appearances — 1979, 1982 and 1986.
“I’ve told the boys they’ve got the ability to beat England... That they should take to the series with confidence... I’ve got high hopes,” Vengsarkar remarked on Wednesday evening.
There’s much riding on the series, including the bit whether the Indians are able to bust the myth that a full-time coach is a necessity.
The Lord’s wicket, incidentally, has been encouraging tall scores. Two months ago, England and the West Indies totalled 990 in their first innings alone.
“Looks a good surface,” is what Dravid, who narrowly missed doing a Sourav on his debut in the same Test, pointed out.
How good will the cricket be'
India: Wasim Jaffer, Dinesh Karthik, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V.V.S. Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth, Rudra Pratap Singh
England: Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss, Michael Vaughan, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, Ryan Sidebottom, James Anderson/Chris Tremlett, Monty Panesar
Umpires: Steve Bucknor, Simon Taufel. TV: Ian Gould
Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle
Test starts: 3.30 pm IST