PARTAB RAMCHAND | 22 JULY, 2018
Fast bowlers Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami
Now that the Indian Test squad has been selected the question to be asked is whether it is good enough to get the better of England in the five-match series and follow in the footsteps of the three earlier sides that won a Test series in that country in 1971, 1986 and 2007.
Touring England in the second half ot the summer is an advantage because the wicket and weather conditions are more suitable for the Indians. Indeed two of the three series triumphs - those in 1971 and 2007 - were notched up in the second half of the summer even if there was an element of good fortune on both occasions in the course of the narrow victories. Under the circumstances the clear cut 2-0 win in 1986 in the first half of the summer can be termed as truly praiseworthy but then India had the seam bowlers to exploit the conditions in Kapil Dev, Roger Binny and Chetan Sharma,even as they received commendable help from left arm spinner Maninder Singh.
But even in the second half of the summer given the conditions in England pace has proved to be a trump card with spin remaining in the background. In 2007 Zaheer Khan and RP Singh were the main wicket takers with very little support from spin. Even as India were getting thrashed in 2011 and 2014 the seam bowlers – Parveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma on the first occasion and Ishant and Bhuvneshwar Kumar the second time around – provided the silver lining again getting virtually no help from the spinners.
So will that be the case this time around too? Will India have to depend more on pace than spin if they are to win the series? The fact that there are five fast bowlers and three spinners in the touring squad is perhaps an indication that the selectors expect more from the pacemen than the spinners. In this context it must be said that the non-availability of Bhuvneshwar is a serious blow to India’s chances. He has the best credentials to excel in English conditions, something he proved beyond doubt four years ago.
Under the circumstances more responsibility lies on the shoulders of Ishant, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav. There is enough variety in that pace quartet to trouble the England batsmen and one can only hope that at least one of them is able to strike the kind of purple patch that Ishant struck at Lord’s four years ago when with second innings figures of seven for 74 he inspired India to pull of a totally unexpected victory.
One can expect the pace bowlers to rise to the occasion but what about the spinners? Both Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were disappointing in the series in 2014 and their abysmal away record is a matter of concern. Could this then be the big moment for Kuldeep Yadav? The left arm Chinaman bowlers has bamboozled the England batsmen in the limited overs game but can he repeat the trick in cricket’s traditional format? Here it is not a question of bowling just four overs or ten overs but he may have to turn his arm over for more than 30 overs and can he then retain the secrecy behind his bag of tricks?
Kuleep has already figured in two Tests against Australia (at home) and Sri Lanka (away) last year and has nine wickets at 20.77 apiece. The problem is that expectations will be that much higher and it remains to be seen if he can rise to the occasion – provided the tour selectors are bold enough to pick him in the playing eleven. It would certainly constitute an adventurous move for the Indians are likely to field just one specialist spin bowler.
But whatever question marks there may be about the bowling there can be no problems whatsoever about the batting. A line-up that starts with Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan and continues with any four of Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Lokesh Rahul, Karun Nair and Dinesh Karthik is a captain’s dream.
The two senior men, the skipper and Pujara would do well not to recall their nightmarish series four years ago and just treat it as a bad dream. While Pujara scored 222 runs at 22.2 the skipper was worse scoring just 134 runs at 13.4. Both of them will want to set the record straight and there is little doubt that they will.
Vijay of course can take heart from his stellar performance in 2014 when he headed the figures with 402 runs at 40.20 while Rahane too had a fairly successful series getting perhaps the best knock of the series – 103 under testing conditions at Lord’s. There are also the all rounders in Ashwin, Jadeja and Hardik Pandya to strengthen the batting though how many of them will make it to the playing eleven is a moot point.