For a series which was tipped to be a terribly one-sided affair, the clash between England and India is turning out to be pretty good. The two teams are all square, and with the talk of the pitch dominating the headlines, the clash in Kolkata should be one of the most intriguing contests of the series. ANT SIMS previews the action.
After being thoroughly beaten in the opening Test against India, England bounced back remarkably, found some fight and turned things around – thanks to a revived Monty Panesar and reintegrated Kevin Pietersen.
With the series now square at 1-1 and two Tests left to play, England has a chance to prove that they are not possums, completely inept against spin and utterly useless away from home. They looked a good unit in the second Test, but their toughest Test of the tour will come at Eden Gardens.
Talk of the pitch has dominated the headlines over the past few days, with the curator himself admitting that spin will have great assistance on the track. It’s good news for the likes of Panesar and Graeme Swann, who combined to take 19 wickets of India’s 20 in Mumbai, but the worry for England will be whether their batsmen are actually capable of playing spin.
Barring Alastair Cook, Pietersen and Matt Prior, the rest of the England batting line-up has looked very unconvincing. India’s batsmen haven’t quite set the world alight, but the home advantage will certainly count in their favour.
Team selection is another conundrum for the visitors. They have Ian Bell returning after missing the second Test owing to paternity leave, and they have to decide whether to draft him back into the side or stick with Jonny Bairstow, who looked equally clueless in the second Test. The big talking point will be that of the pace bowlers. While Stuart Broad might be the second-highest wicket-taker in Test cricket this year, he’s not really managed to do much in India, and with Steven Finn being fit and firing, Broad might very well drop out to make room for the lanky pace ace.
Finn took four wickets in the warm-up match played last week, and insists he’s confident that he can contribute, despite the conditions not being exactly suited to fast bowling.
“If I’m picked as part of a two-man seam attack, I might be used in a strike-bowling capacity,” Finn said. “There is a little bit of pressure, but you don’t change your plans or the way that you bowl. Just because you’re being used as a strike bowler, doesn’t mean you start bowling bumpers and yorkers all the time, searching for wickets. You still have to have a degree of patience and use your skills wisely.”
What was expected to be a terribly one-sided affair, with India having been tipped to dominate and dismantle an England outfit in the middle of transition, is warming up to be a rather enticing series. And the battle at Kolkata will be entertaining one way or another.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
As clichés go, when it comes to seizing opportunities, Monty Panesar was cliché exemplified in Mumbai. Having not played for England since the abomination in the UAE earlier in 2012 – where he made his return after an absence of nearly three years – he marked his return to Test cricket by making Sachin Tendulkar his bunny and bamboozling the rest of the Indian line-up with their own witchery of crafty spin. He’s got a point to prove, and while Panesar has often been criticised for being meek and mild, he’s pretty effective. If he can produce more of the same at Eden Gardens, the Luton Lad will be well on his way to becoming a match-winning trump card in the England line-up.
By his standards, Virat Kohli has had a remarkably quiet series. He’s yet to score more than 20 in an innings, despite having had a year where runs seemed to flow at will. He’s not one to get bogged down by a couple of poor performances, and he might take heart from the 107 he scored at Eden Gardens in an ODI against Sri Lanka back in 2009. Kohli is determined, gritty, immensely talented and a future Indian cricketing great – and he’ll back himself to bounce back.
India’s weather is brilliant this time of the year, if your definition of brilliant is hot and humid. There are a couple of thunderstorms forecast for next week, and while they might make their way in earlier, there’s hardly a chance of bad weather interrupting play to deter or even dictate a result. As with the rest of the series it’ll be hot, hot, hot – bad news if you’re English. DM
Photo: England’s James Anderson (L) and his teammate Matt Prior attend a cricket practice session in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad November 14, 2012. The first test cricket match between India and England will be played in Ahmedabad starting on Thursday. REUTERS/Amit Dave
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