Only two days are left for the first India-England Test and there is no trace of a secret dossier. There was one Down Under. A highly confidential document detailing a player-by-player deconstruction of the South African team found its way to the media on the eve of the just-concluded Gabba Test, and here in India we’ve no clue if there exists one at all.
Mickey Arthur is suspected to be the author of that secret dossier, largely because of his extensive knowledge of the Proteas, but the situation here is no different. Duncan Fletcher wears a hat similar to that of Arthur’s and being a former England boss, his understanding of the visiting team should be no less than that of the Australia coach’s comprehension of Graeme Smith’s men. Whether the old man has prepared one is the point.
Or should we assume that a dossier on the ‘strengths’ and ‘vulnerabilities’ of the England team is not needed at all, as the video footage of their Test series against Pakistan should serve the purpose. Saeed Ajmal had laid bare all their weaknesses in the UAE early this year and Fletcher may have found all the required answers to all the English questions.
Since the Englishmen arrived here, the talk has been spin and turning tracks. Like in the UAE, the pitches here are certain to provide turn and the question is not from which day but which session. The point is do India have the class that Pakistan possessed in their spin attack and is Ravichandran Ashwin’s carom ball as lethal as Ajmal’s doosra.
India have taken the easy first right step by starving England of practice against quality spin bowling in the run-up to the Ahmedabad Test but will that be enough to unsettle Alastair Cook & Co in the first Test? Ashwin and his spin twin Pragyan Ojha decimated New Zealand in the previous home series. They will be key to India’s fortunes.
English pundits, from Michael Vaughan to Geoffrey Boycott, have all been tipping India as the overwhelming favourites for the four-Test series but the home team is not without its share of woes. Their batting has been far from convincing and openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are a couple of failures away from being separated.
Then there is this concern of widening gap between Sachin Tendulkar’s bat and pad. He will be in an unwanted spotlight. The focus also will be as much on Yuvraj Singh whose fightback from a rare germ cell cancer is stuff of the lore. But he will have to prove his fitness and, more importantly, his utility for the team.
England sure are a formidable side and Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Matt Prior, James Andersen, Graeme Swann, Tim Bresnan and Stephen Finn have all been part of an Ashes-winning teams. But they would know history is against them. No English side has won a Test series in 27 years and no visiting team has won a series here in eight years. So to beat India in India is not easy. Cook will do well to know that it is a proposition as likely as Poonam Pandey landing a Bond girl’s role.