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India toughest team to beat at home

India have the edge in fielding, batting and importantly, fitness, writes Moin Khan.

india Updated: Feb 28, 2006 16:27 IST

Test matches are won by the bowlers. And even though England have lost Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick and Simon Jones before the spin of the coin for Nagpur Test, the tourists have a pace battery that can still cause trouble for the inform Indian batsmen.

In Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Liam Plunkett, James Anderson and Andrew Flintoff, the Englishmen have an attack that is still capable of taking the required 20 wickets.

However, the weak link in England bowling is the spin department. In the subcontinent and especially in India, the touring teams have to have, at least, one quality spinner as the wickets usually assist the slow bowlers.

Pakistan won four Tests on their last three tours of India courtesy their magician spinners, Iqbal Qasim and Tauseef Ahmed in 1986, Saqlain Mushtaq in 1999 and Danish Kaneria in 2005.

It is an amazing contrast to the fact that from 1986 onwards, Pakistan produced the most feared and match-winning fast bowlers in Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar.

England have Shaun Udal and an uncapped Monty Panesar who has played just 29 first-class matches for Northamptonshire. In this background, England's decisive blow is not the absence of Trescthick or Vaughan but the hip injury to Ashley Giles.

Since I haven't seen Panesar, I would not like to comment on his potential but still believe he must be good and that's why he is in the England squad.

I would certainly advice the Indian batsmen not to rush in showing disrespect or complacency against Panesar— a mistake which we made against Giles in the 2000 home series when he made his maiden tour with England.

Giles claimed 17 wickets on that tour and most importantly spoiled our unblemished record at the National Stadium in Karachi where we lost by six wickets.

Coming back to the England pacers, all of them are of different class. Late last year in Pakistan, we saw Harmison bend his back more to extract the extra bounce that regularly unsettled the Pakistani batsmen while Hoggard was more dangerous with the new ball due to his ability to swing the ball both ways.

With the old ball, Flintoff was more effective not only because he had the pace but also because he started to reverse the ball that becomes a lethal weapon when combined with pace.

Plunkett showed his promise in the one-dayers whereas the Pakistan team fan-club have still not forgotten Anderson's match-winning spell at Newlands in Capetown in the 2003 World Cup although he didn't come to Pakistan.

I am specifically talking about Sehwag because his presence in the centre always puts turbo on the scoring-rate. Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, we all know, are as technically correct as a batsman can be and, therefore, will make the bowlers work hard to get them instead of them gifting away their priceless wickets cheaply.

I was particularly pleased with the improvement the Indian pacers showed in Pakistan. Irfan Pathan was more devastating with the new ball and he showed that in the Karachi Test. The real impetus the bowling has received is in the shape of young Sreesanth and Rudra Pratap Singh.

England batting has definitely become fragile and inexperienced in the absence of Trescothich and Vaughan, which means there would be more pressure on Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and stand-in captain Andrew Flintoff. In Pakistan, Strauss played extremely well and so did Pietersen and Flintoff.

But Pietersen and Flintoff showed arrogance in their batting when they tried to hit everything out of the park. To me, England lost the first Test at Multan after taking a 144-run lead because of Pietersen and Flintoff who holed out to Kaneria and Shoaib Akhtar respectively while attempting big shots at a time when the tourists were cruising nicely in pursuit of 198.

When we talk about handling the pressure, well, both the teams didn't do well in that area against Pakistan. Indian batting lasted five sessions in Karachi and was dismissed in two sessions in Bangalore while England crumbled in their second innings at Multan in little over two sessions and same was the story in Lahore.

In a nutshell, barring the pace attack, India have the cutting edge in fielding, batting, established leadership and most importantly, fitness. But the bottomline is that India will have to show the same tenacity, determination, grit and commitment that helped them leave Pakistan licking their wounds in the one-day series.

India are probably the hardest team to beat at home but their worst enemy in their backyard has always been none other but themselves.