Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Playing With Spin

While one pair of heavyweights do battle in Australia over the crown of Test Crickets best team, another pair of contenders for the crown begin their battle from Thursday.  While South Africa and Australia slug it out to be number one, India and England are attempting to get back on track after being deposed as number one.  In India’s case there is the additional incentive of revenge after England’s 4-0 series win last year ended India’s time at the top of the tree.

Gatting cuts during England's sucessful 1984/5 test series win in India

The strange thing is that both sides are at a transitional phase.  India has seen the retirements of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman since that crushing series defeat.  Dravid’s replacement is Cheteshwar Pujara, who has already scored a test hundred in his 5 tests, with Virat Kholi in place as Laxman’s replacement.  Kholi has already scored two test hundreds in his ten tests.  Still there though to guide these promising players is the little master Sachin Tendulkar, only on 15,533 test runs (at an average of 55.08) with 51 test hundreds to his name.  Virender Shewag will be opening once more, while the dangerous all rounder Yuvraj Singh returns to the squad after successfully fighting a rare form of cancer.

Also returning to the India squad is Harbhajan Singh, who will be key in spearheading India’s spin attack.  Yadav & the old warhorse Zaheer Khan will be the new ball bowlers, however it will be the spin bowling of Singh, Ashwin and the left arm spin of Ojha who will be key against opponents with a perceived weakness for spin bowling.

England also have team building issues of their own.  The retirement of Andrew Strauss opens up a vacancy at the top of the England order, with Nick Compton the likely favourite for that position.  There is still a position in the middle order up for grabs, with Johnny Bairstow favourite to retain the position he occupied in the latter part of the South Africa series, while they have injury problems with their fast bowlers.  Steven Finn is a doubt for the first test while Stuart Broad is returning from injury.  On the upside, Pieterson is back though one wonders how long he will stay in the right frame of mind for the test series.

It has been said before, but key to England’s chances of pulling off an unlikely win in India will be how their batsmen handle the conditions, particularly the spin friendly conditions.  One of the reasons that England lost top spot in the test rankings was their poor record against Pakistan and Sri Lanka last winter, yet here we are in a country where England’s record is not good.  Since the war, England have come away from India with series wins twice (3-1 in 1976/7 and 2-1 in 1984/5).  In that last series win, England posted first innings scores in excess of 400 three times.

Of course England could surprise us all and show a degree of adaptability which was hidden in Sri Lanka and in Abu Dhabi earlier on this year – as they did when they surprisingly drew in India in 2005/6.  I suspect however that this will not be the case, which is why India remain favourites to win this series

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