Well, the last time I sat down to write preview of an important tour for India. Disaster struck twice and India lost 8-0. Though the chances are it may not repeat but then this does mark the beginning of yet another grueling Test of the team which is just starting to look on and off but in better shape than before. Also with England experimenting with careers of their players, it seems to the time for India to strike gold but we must be wary as concentrating on the weakness of the opposition often catches you off guard as England found against Australia in the Ashes. The Ashes however is my sample set to derive four things that India has to do well in England to stand a chance to compete let alone win. We’ll also keep in mind the squad that we have announced so as to assign roles better.
Test squad for England : MS Dhoni (C), Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Ishwar Pandey, Ishant Sharma, Stuart Binny, Varun Aaron, Wriddhiman Saha, Pankaj Singh.
The following are the 4 point something that India needs to follow:
1. Top order wickets
2. Lower-middle order comeback
3. Put England off their plans.
4. MS Dhoni.
The fourth reason may sound weird but that for me is going to be the most important one. Let’s get started then.
1. Top order wickets.
Swing and seam is bound to make all the difference in England and India have picked a few good bowlers with the new ball and they need to shine for India to make early inroads and get into the England middle order which is not a solid one for now. The new ball wickets become key since if they don’t strike, India go back a long way in the game and with the England bowling being better, the batsmen will be up against it to make up for their bowlers. Bhuvi and Pandey/Aaron become vital for India’s chances first up. India may not have Mitchell Johnson to scare the hell out of England but the Indian bowlers will have to hunt in pairs to knock England off.
2. Lower-middle order comeback.
Often in Ashes we saw starts like 98-4, 100-5 for Australia against England, It was the lower middle order that contributed to the success of Australia. Agreed India will want their top order to fare better but in home conditions for England, it becomes necessary for Indian to have a line-up that bats deep. England did suffer by not being able to take out the tail of Australia as they played some handy knocks which made totals of 275 above 350 and that does make a lot of difference. MS Dhoni will have a task to balance out his team well. Rohit, Dhoni and Jadeja’s knocks are going to be a decisive factor given the form of the top order, they are going to have to do a lot of work and that supports the third point coming up.
3. Put England off their plans
England like India are a team that relies a lot on pre-planning. They have Plan A and Plan B off the field ready and are very rigid to improvise on the field. The hesitancy to change plans on the field makes them vulnerable and the game is gone before you know it and that is what Australia did to England. If you manage to put England off their plans by counter-attacking them, suddenly the ultra-defensive Cook comes out and spreads the field and the pressure is off you to score and get back. But to assume, England will repeat their mistakes will be risky but rest assured if India wants to dominate England, they have to bat with aggression to comeback with the bat. Kohli, Dhoni are ideal for such knocks if both hold themselves well. With the ball, think India can look emulate plans from Australia of using the short ball well against England. Both Shami and Aaron have a good bouncer at pace and must plan well to unsettle the English batsmen with the pace.
4. MS Dhoni
There is a cliche, ‘if you get the captain, you get the team’ Australia did that to England very well and Cook had one of his worst series both as a captain and a batsman as well. MS Dhoni is already behind in terms of captaincy overseas and this tour may just be the biggest Test of his Test career for he is due to take to this format. He though since the 99 in Nagpur against England has changed gears and done what he does the best. Attack! Seam and swing troubles all but it is the mindset that can change fortunes and Dhoni must back himself to attack England. Steve Smith, Brad Haddin did that to a superb effect and the result was for all of us to see. Dhoni is capable to turning the match in a session and it will not only help India post a good score but also with a handy batsman to bat with the tail. His captaincy though has to improve a lot as said in point 3, he need to improvise well in Tests overseas. Something which comes naturally to him in other formats but strangely hasn’t come through in whites. India can’t afford to have a deep point for new batsmen first ball and Dhoni turning to less prone bowlers when a partnership is starting to grow to rest his main bowlers. He needs to plan better and make better use of the resources at hand with him and the Sri Lanka series against England should help him plan better for England.
With the four points, also giving my eleven for the first Test and with reasons as well for the chopping.
My playing XI for the first Test: Shikhar Dhawan, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane/Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma/Ishwar Pandey, Varun Aaron.
Before you outrage on playing Dhawan, for me comes in for Vijay and since we have Gambhir, better off using him than benching. Though it makes it two lefties at top but both Vijay and Dhawan will struggle with the new ball but if Dhawan is patient enough to wait and bat long, India may be off to a ideal start as a quick cameo from Dhawan will do good for India to start positively. While the rest pick themselves, it’s upto Dhoni and co to decide to play both Rahane or Rohit or play one of them depending on the conditions. I don’t see both Ashwin and Jadeja playing and Jadeja plays since Ashwin cannot stop experimenting in a format he need not do it. Bhuvi, Shami are the obvious picks with Aaron, who provides India with a bowler with pace. Dhoni then has to decide if he wants to play Ishant, Pandey of even Binny who may not be a bad pick if he is bowling well and he also gives an option with the bat. But if he prefers Pandey, we know who to blame, the yellow ofcourse 🙂
If India manages to do half of the things right, the pain of 4-0 may just subside a bit but if they don’t India may start losing patience with this form and it may make way for changes and hard decisions sooner than expected.
I don’t know if you agree with my thoughts on the plan of action or not but these are just mine and you are free to have your own opinions, of course. Do let me know though, what you think of them! Feedback much needed and appreciated!