The heart pounds, the pulse rate jumps, the stomach quivers and the mind braces in anticipation of a contest that has all the ingredients that make Test cricket a feast to be savoured long after the last ball has been bowled. A skillful and self-assured India may lack the aura and invincibility of the West Indians of the eighties or the Australians in the last decade, but is still a team that has matched the best thrown at them even in conditions alien to their style of play.
They escaped unscathed in South Africa, with honours even, and now will be tested once again by a team that can put the Indian batting to a searing examination of skill and patience.
Handful at home
England at home can be a handful even for the genius of Tendulkar, in search of his hundredth century. Its formidable line-up of strapping pacemen literally towering above others can breach the defenses of a Dravid, whose concentration and technique would need the reflexes and inspiration of his youthful days. They could even make Laxman's magic wand appear wooden and vulnerable and prevent him from conjuring up strokes of grace and beauty.
Zak holds the key
The Indians, even if their batsmen fail to respond to the challenge, have in Zaheer Khan a bowler who tricks batsmen to their doom, applying a chess player's mind to create the moment to deliver a boxer's punch to flatten his opponent. With Ishant back to his promised best and bowling as fast as he is running up to the stumps, India are opponents who will not give in easily, even if they struggle to put up runs on the board.
Viru will be missed
The unease and apprehension that India could find the going tough, stems from the absence of one man from the first half of the series. Even when he scores only twenties and thirties, Sehwag's walloping of the bowlers and the speed at which he decimates them unnerves the opponents and makes life much easier and peaceful for those who follow him in the batting order. And, the day the ball finds the centre of his bat and gets scattered to all parts of the ground for some length of time is akin to a heavyweight boxer's knockout punch.
It would be no exaggeration to say that India's dominance in Test cricket owes as much to Sehwag's emasculation of a bowling attack as it does to the collective strength of the three batting greats it possesses. As India's not-so-impressive performance (despite its series win) against the West Indians showed, there are certain chinks in this team, especially when its opening pair is not in order, which can put them under pressure.
England, unlike the West Indians, could create a deep wedge if given a small opening and it is here that India appears vulnerable and could lose the advantage of having a formidable middle order.