Of all the contests they have fought recently, India are certainly more wary of this one. Despite their best effort to mask it, there was no denying Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men were feeling the nerves ahead of their battle against the England lions in their den.
The Asian giants are aware of Andrew Strauss’s teams potential as genuine contenders to the No. 1 ranking. No other rival has the depth and balance of Strauss’s side. Add to it the grandness of the occasion — 2000th Test, 100th between India and England — the stage is set for the two high-profile contestants to dish out an epic. The purists of the game certainly can't wait for the action to begin and have billed the four-Test series as an unofficial World Test Championship final.
It’s a series where reputations will be made or shattered; where one moment of brilliance will help achieve instant stardom or a moment of poor play will consign you to obscurity.
It’s the evenness of the contest that makes the anticipation exciting. If India have in their arsenal one of the best batting line-ups ever assembled, England boast of a mean, pace machine. India’s pace attack is no pushover either while England’s batting might has mastered many.
Currently ranked third, England will go to number one if they beat India 3-1 or 2-0, or better in the series.
England will be favourites simply for the home advantage. Indian batsmen have proved they are equipped to handle the challenge, but they have certainly never shown that they enjoy playing in these conditions.
The India skipper said the key would be to stick to success. “It’s about playing the cricket you specialise in. We’ll stick to our strengths as it’s important to stick to your natural game and do what you are good at. It’s about being in a positive frame of mind,” he said.
Managing to stay positive, he said, has been India’s strength. “We try to enjoy the game and the situation. Every place brings different challenges and we look at it positively, and avoid looking at it as a responsibility,” said Dhoni.
The enormity of the challenge was not lost on the England skipper. “You don’t become the No. 1 side in the world without playing well away from home; that’s the improvement India have made,” said Strauss.
However, the ambition to be the best is burning bright. “We are not the finished article, but No. 1 is relative to what others are doing. Our ultimate goal is that everyone agrees we are the No. 1 side in the world, not just in rankings,” he added.
England is confident the future is theirs. They look at India as a team in decline, heavily dependent on their ageing stalwarts Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. Strauss' men will be looking for the signs to pounce on them.