England must conquor spin to win
by Asher Wilson

Scorecard:India v England
Event:England in India 2012/13

DateLine: 14th November 2012


India v England
1st Test 2012
Match Preview


Billed as the revenge series, India is reportedly aiming to pay England back in the same coin as their last loss in England, when the two teams renew cricketing rivalry in the opening round of what promises to be an engrossing four-match Test rubber starting on Thursday.


India had suffered a humiliating 0-4 series whitewash when they visited England in July-August 2011 and would go out all guns blazing to avenge the defeat riding on the back of its spinners in favourable home conditions. Dhoni, a little under pressure to deliver after his team's two successive 4-0 defeats in England and Australia, has openly called on groundsmen at the venues across to prepare turning wickets hoping to shake-up the tourists.


Indian paceman Ishant Sharma is down with viral fever but was not in the running for a place in the playing eleven ahead of Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav, who are likely to open the new ball attack. Ashok Dinda has been called up as late cover for Sharma but would most likely be warming the bench barring a last-minute injury to Zaheer or Yadav.


India will use two front-line spinners -- possibly three if a rank turner is provided -- to bamboozle England in the four Tests in Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Kolkata and Nagpur. Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who has taken 42 wickets in five home Tests, and slow left-armer Pragyan Ojha, 63 from 12 games at home, will be skipper Dohni's main weapons. Waiting in the wings is recalled vetreran off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, whose 406 scalps in 98 Tests make him the world's leading wicket-taker among the current crop of bowlers.


On the batting front for India, Virat Kohli's star has been rising so rapidly many have forgotten that he only made his Test debut about a year ago. In 10 Tests, his average is already above 40, and in five Tests this year, he has scored a healthy 501 runs at an average of 62.62. He is feisty and competitive on the field and was the standout performer during the Australia tour earlier this year. Kohli has a bright future and playing against any of the top sides in the world brings out his best.


In absence of two middle-order stalwarts after the retirement of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, India's remaining senior batsmen – Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir – will have to regain their lost touch rather quickly. Sehwag and Tendulkar have shown signs of form ahead of the series with centuries in their respective teams' first Ranji Trophy matches of the ongoing domestic season.


England have not won a Test series in India in nearly 28 years and reversing the trend would be a tough job for the world number two team. The tourists confront an Indian side that usually makes up for its poor record abroad by dominating on home soil where they have lost just one series out of 16 over the past decade.


England proved vulnerable against the turning ball away from home this year, losing 3-0 to Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in January-February before forcing a 1-1 draw in Sri Lanka in March.


A leg injury to 6-foot 7-inch fast bowler, Steven Finn has caused a setback as could trouble Indian batsmen with his steep bounce even on the slow pitches. Soon after landing in India, Finn picked up a thigh muscle strain on the first day of their tour opening game in Mumbai.


England hasn't had the best time since arriving in India. Between its leading bowlers breaking down and many players struggling with the infamous 'Delhi Belly', the warm-up matches haven’t given all the players the preparation they would have wanted. But the stage has been set for what can be expected: runs, and loads of them, if only England can overcome its mental weakness against spin.


England drew all three warm-up matches, but had little chance to play top quality little spin bowling. It may have been spinners who brought England down against Pakistan but one cannot underestimate their fighting spirit although skipper Cook has admitted he would have liked his charges to have played a bit more against proper spinners.


The visitors have a good batting line-up led by Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Samit Patel who play the turning ball well. All of them, barring Bell, have already hit centuries in the warm-up games and how well Ashwin and Ojha bowl against this strong line-up would be key to India's success.


Cook is likely to be partnered by uncapped Nick Compton after Strauss' retirement, who is in good nick, but India can take advantage of the new combination by putting pressure on the debutant. Kevin Pietersen is back after his 'text-message saga', a bizarre press conference and a rather odd YouTube video saw him exiled from the England side during the recent series against South Africa. He scored 100 in one of the warm-up matches, and KP is no stranger to Indian conditions. He’ll have a point to prove, and Pietersen is at his best when he is trying to make a statement.


England's only previous visit, in December 2001, ended as a draw. Craig White (121) and Marcus Trescothick (99) helped England to 407, Sachin Tedulkar made 103 in India's 291. Half centuries from Mark Butcher and Nasser Hussain took England to 257 and India crawled to 198 for three on the last day.


Two of the last three Tests at Ahmedabad have been high-scoring draws but India were dismissed for 76 and beaten by an innings by South Africa after they opted to bat first there in April 2008. Recently relaid, the pitch is likely offer low bounce and turn increasingly after the first two days.


India have won only three times since Test cricket was first played here in 1983. The last two Tests have been high scoring draws. South Africa, who won by an innings and 90 runs, were the last team to get a positive result there.


On paper, it looks like it will be a tight contest, with both sides riding on the seesaw of form. When it comes to big Test series like this one, winning or losing often comes down to a few key moments in a match or during a session. With the sides so evenly matched, it will take a special performance from one or two individuals to help their side edge out the opposition.


Sunny weather is forecast for all five days with temperatures reaching 34C during each day.


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


England from: Alastair Cook (C), James Anderson, Ian Bell, Tim Bresnan, Nick Compton, Steven Finn, Samit Patel, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott, Sturt Broad, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Graham Onions, Eoin Morgan, Monty Panesar and Stuart Meaker.

(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
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