Depleted England could give visitors best shot at victory
Without beating around the bush, this is the best chance India have to win a Test series in England since the triumph of Kapil Dev's team in 1986. With the Ashes-winning trio of Steve Harmison, Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff out for the entire series, England's bowling will rely on Monty Panesar and Matthew Hoggard, which should cheer the Indians up no end, because a full-strength England would have walloped them, given their abominable away record. I probably run the risk of belittling the three other bowlers in the squad — Ryan Sidebottom, Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson — here, but with reason.
Sidebottom has played four Tests thus far, and Broad none. Anderson has 16 Tests to his credit, but has always promised more than he has delivered. All in all, there are no tearaways, no one who can really get the ball up around the Indian batsmen's throats. Panesar and Hoggard will have to shoulder much of the burden, and Indians do play spin better.
Granted, the Indian bowling doesn't look too hot either, but Anil Kumble is still the match-winner that he always was, and despite a few fluctuations, I believe Zaheer Khan has shaped into a fine bowler. They will have some help from the opposition batting in the shape of a struggling Andrew Strauss, and an under pressure Kevin Pietersen who has been playing too much cricket. And of course, one of England's finest Test player — Marcus Trescothick — is mentally shot.
So if India can't get the better of this depleted England side, what hope in hell do they have against Australia later this year? The big guns — Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman, and Yuvraj — need to fire, put big totals on the board, and give the bowlers something to defend.
Make no mistake, batting will decide the outcome of this Test series, and since at least three Indian star batsmen are on their final tour of England, they would presumably look to end with a bang.
I gather there has been lukewarm enthusiasm about this tour among the Indian public. The Indian cricket fan must be about fed up with the 'poor travellers' tag that his hugely well-paid and glamorous team refuses to shed, and I don't blame him. When they take the field at the Mecca of cricket, I would imagine the Indians would want to prove a thing or two.