Can England pull off a Test series triumph in India for the first time in almost 28 years? Can Alastair Cook join the likes of Douglas Jardine, Tony Greig and David Gower as the only England captains to return victorious from this country?
The visitors have certainly started off the tour in the best possible way. It has been a methodical preparation. First there was a short camp in the UAE. This was followed by three warm-up games in India. At a time of short and hectic tours to have this many warm-up games is a bit of luxury and if England were to lose the series lack of preparation simply cannot be a reason.
The tourists have done commendably so far. The batsmen have been among the runs with some of them notching up hundreds while the bowlers have picked up the wickets regularly. There has apparently been little to complain about the ground fielding and the catching also so all in all the England team has displayed a thorough professional attitude that has to be admired.
They have obviously come over with the self-belief that they can win the Test series in India and that a job well begun is half done. This attitude has best been summed up by Cook after England turned their back on a winning chance in the final warm-up game against Haryana. Not only did he not enforce the follow on but he opted for an early finish when they had a minimum of ten more overs in which to take only four more wickets.
Instead Cook chose to rest his bowlers in case they were required on Thursday. ''Yes, we would have liked to win the game but sometimes commonsense has to be used and there is no point busting a gut today with the Test match around the corner when there are some injury concerns already,'' the England captain explained.
Cook’s cautious approach was understandable. There are question marks over the availability of Steve Finn and Stuart Broad and Cook indicated that they will not be selected if doubts persist about their fitness.
The Indian team and in particular the think tank would have followed England’s matches closely and picked up whatever chinks in the armour they might have found. Duncan Fletcher who has been England’s coach in the recent past and skipper MS Dhoni will have closely observed the strengths and weaknesses.
They should be having enough knowledge of all this from the 4-0 whacking they suffered in England last year. But then conditions are different in India and as is well known the home team is pretty hard to defeat in their own backyard. England are surely aware of this. Since the win at Madras in January 1985 that set up the 2-1 series victory for Gower’s team, England have won just one of 12 Tests played in this country.
But then to be candid this England team looks very different from their immediate predecessors. They seem to be well balanced, strong enough in batting, bowling and fielding. Above all they are led by a cricketer who has gained considerably in stature in recent years. It was in India that Cook made a century on Test debut in 2006 – and received a marriage proposal from a pretty girl in the stands who held out a placard to that effect.
Since then he has emerged as England’s most consistent batsman with a penchant for big scores – the monumental 294 against India last year being the supreme testimony to his insatiable appetite for runs and hunger for success. Now following the retirement of Andrew Strauss he has also emerged as a natural successor and there is little doubt that he could well be as successful as a captain as he is as a batsman.
Even in a star-studded batting line-up Cook stands out but he is in good company. In Jonathon Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell England have a middle order to rival the best in the contemporary game. Johnny Bairstow has apparently sealed the No 6 slot following his hundred in the tour game against Mumbai A.
The only question mark remained over Cook’s opening partner with Joe Root and Nick Compton in the running. But going by his recent run following a horrendous start to the tour it would appear that Compton would step out with Cook in the first Test at Ahmedabad starting on Thursday.
It would be great to see another Compton appear on Indian soil. Nearly 70 years ago his grandfather the legendary Denis played for Holkar in the Ranji Trophy after being stationed at the army headquarters at Mhow during World War II.
The bowling should normally hinge around the three seamers and one spinner attack. Provided they are all fit three among James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Steve Finn should make the cut while Graeme Swann will be the specialist spinner. But Samit Patel could be giving the tour selection committee some problems for he really has been both among the runs and among the wickets.
Whether the team management will go in for the two seamers and two spinners policy is a moot point even in India. Pace bowling would appear to be England’s best bet but the fact remains that England spinners too have performed admirably in India as underlined by the performances of Hedley Verity, Roy Tattersall, David Allen, Tony Lock, Fred Titmus and Derek Underwood.