Outcome will depend on batsmen
Both sides appear evenly matched in batting and are similarly inexperienced in bowling, writes Ravi Shastri.Updated: Jan 09, 2008 11:52 IST
A Test at Lord's is a great social event of the cricket calendar. Rising nationalism of other countries could make Melbourne and Eden Gardens appear similarly seductive but nobody possibly possesses the mix of history, tradition and eccentricity to quite the same degree. It's a cricketing shrine, the Mecca of cricket if you must.
It's an occasion where the best want to prove themselves and the younger ones hope to carve a slice of superstardom. I am sure this Indian team would be nursing similar ambitions, though history suggests two factors could work against them. For one, touring teams who win at Lord's usually have had some pretty outstanding bowlers in their ranks. In the 15 Tests played at this venue since the start of this decade, only Australia and South Africa have managed a win. They alone have had the bowling wherewithal to overcome conditions which could weigh heavily in favour of batsmen, more so now when the second half of the summer is in full bloom. As it is, the last three Tests at this venue have been drawn.
The track has usually been unforgiving for bowlers, pacers and spinners alike. Even though Panesar took six West Indies wickets earlier in the summer, it came at a high cost. Muttiah Muralitharan, all that 700 wickets and counting, could only take three wickets at Lord's at an enormous expense last season. It should smoothen the nerves of the Indian batsmen and a high score from them could be a good position to drive home the advantage. It's important they keep an eye on the rate at which they score: not only is the weather forecast at Lord's over the weekend not too great but also England have a few bowlers who are known for their economy rate.
Monty Panesar and Ryan Sidebottom concede under three runs an over or thereabout on an average in their overs. It means they are not easy to hit: Panesar, with his left-arm spinners coming from a height, and his variations, pose more than just one question to right-handed batsmen. Sidebottom, simply because he is tall and has come a long way since his inconspicuous debut in 2001.
Matthew Hoggard isn't too behind. Stuart Broad is an unknown commodity since he only makes his Test debut on Thursday.
As for the Indian bowling, there is a new mix. Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth will be the thrust of the medium-pace attack and it's a great opportunity for RP Singh to make up for his lost time. Anil Kumble, despite his experience, would need to be at the top of his craft. I don't expect anything dramatic in the team line-up.
Despite concerns on Mahendra Singh Dhoni's form, he should be in and so should VVS Laxman, though Yuvraj Singh is a popular choice in the Indian line-up. Conservatism, at the start of a series, is typically an Indian thing.
England haven't lost for six years and 11 Test series at home and there has been a good reason for it. It has boasted of a good attack and a batting line-up which has improved all the time. Andrew Strauss might be in a bit of a mess and Marcus Trescothick is sorting his own affairs in the background, it still is a formidable line-up, this England batting. Alistair Cook, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood are the heart of their scores and the likes of Michael Vaughan and Matt Prior are difficult to ignore. They also have couple of bowlers who contribute well with the willow late in the innings.
Both sides appear evenly matched in batting and are similarly inexperienced in bowling. Conditions too don't promise a rousing contest. But Lord's being Lord's and Indians being the travellers they have been throughout their history, it still would take some effort to snatch oneself away from the action in the middle.