Welcome back everyone, its been FAR too long...
Since last I penned anything coherent upon these sheets, an awful lot has changed. From a self promotion point of view, my sometimes collaborator on this blog Mainzey and I have begun a podcast known as "Waxing Lyrical With Mainz and Dutts", which is available to download on iTunes. In other slightly more impressive news, I have discovered that, with a 95% certainty, I should become father to a daughter in March. All very exciting stuff.
In this blog, I want to take a slightly more in depth look at a topic that Mainzey and I discussed on the latest Waxing Lyrical, that is the England tour to India.
England's record in India since 1933 must be awful, mustn't it? Given how poorly we travel to the subcontinent, our awful record and style against spin, we must be absolutely terrible....Well, it may shock some of you to learn that if you dismiss the 1993 series (in which England were beaten 3-0 after an "expert" scouting party dismissed one of the Indian spinners with the words, after watching footage of him, "I didn't see him turn a single ball from leg to off. I don't believe we will have much problem with him" (Anil Kumble, who went on to take 21 wickets in the series while NINE England bowlers took 28 between them)) England have won 11 Tests in India, and have lost...11. Doesn't seem that bad all of a sudden does it? However three of those wins came in the 1976/77 tour, a further two in 1984/5 and NOW it seems bad.
There have been 51 tests between England and India in India, and 26 of them have ended in a draw. The fact of the matter remains that it is VERY hard for both teams to win in India, unless one team commits Harri-Kari. India very rarely do so (although they did in 2006, the now famous "Freddie's Lions" test), whereas even over the last four years of English success, there are still notable instances of collapse. (Jamaica 2009, Headingley 2009, Abu Dhabi 2012...I could go on.) Patience is very much the key, and England it would seem do have the batsmen to play the patient game. The new captain Alastair Cook made his debut in Nagpur in 2006, and followed up his first innings 60 with a century in the second. He will, along with Jonathon Trott, be the key men in blunting whatever new ball fire the Indians throw at England, hopefully allowing the more stylish Pietersen Bell and Prior to make hey.
After the shambles in the UAE on the last tour, it should be noted that while India have a very potent spin attack, it contains little mystery. Ravi Ashwin has been a sensation since coming into the test team, with both bat and ball, but he remains essentially a top spin bowler, with only a well disguised "carrom ball" as his major wonder weapon. Harbajahn Singh seems to be on the downside of his glittering Test match career, and Pragyan Ojha will no doubt have Kevin Pietersen in his sights (he's a slow left arm bowler, in case you didn't know), but from what little I have seen of him he seems to get an awful lot of wickets when the ball does NOT spin.
When it comes to the English attack, we will obviously fight fire with fire and pack our side with spinners also, like we do every subcontinental tour? Well maybe not. The recent Australia and South Africa victories in India have come when those sides stuck to their strengths, the Aussies in deploying three seamers and an attacking spinner, the Proteas with three quicks, Kallis and a holding man. There seems little point in trying to beat the Indians at THEIR game in THEIR house. Given the form he has shown with the bat in the warm up games, it seems certain that Samit Patel will fill (and he will FILL it, I assure you) the troublesome number six spot for England. He is a slow bowler who does not rip the ball, but could (with a certain generousity of spirit) hold an end down, allowing England to rotate their first choice bowlers. Obviously the real key man for England will be Graeme Swann, who England hope will come to the fore as he did in the recent Sri Lanka tour, during the second test of which he took his second test ten wicket haul.
Since England last played Test cricket against India, there have been some notable changes. Rahul Dravid, the lone shining light in 2011, has retired, and has taken the silky VVS Laxman with him. Virat Kolhi has emerged as the new star of the batting lineup, but there are still the old favourites of Yuvraj Singh (if he plays, look for Dhoni to get him the ball as soon as his nemesis Pietersen comes to the crease) the captain MS Dhoni and of course Sachin Tendulkar. Now aged 39, this will probably be the last time England face the little master in Test cricket. He has enjoyed English visits to his homeland, with 11 matches garnering 848 runs at an average of 60.57, a mere five runs greater than his career average. He is not in the greatest of form however, and has gone 25 Test innings since his last century, with only five 50s in that time also. His last century IN INDIA came in October 2010, eight Tests ago. Granted it was a double ton against Australia, but that will seem a long time ago. If England can once more keep Sachin from raising his bat and removing his helmet to acknowledge the applause of a nation that idolises him, they may go someway towards winning in India.