England’s much-anticipated tour in India has been fraught with difficulties before a ball has been bowled. The hosts are intent on seeking revenge for the 4-nil whitewash they suffered in England during 2011. England, meanwhile, are anticipating an immensely challenging series; an England team have not won there since 1986, and the current squad have had a disappointing 2012, losing 6 out of their last 11 tests. With Alistair Cook taking over after Andrew Strauss’ retirement, preparations have been far from ideal for the new captain. The first Test begins on November 15 but selection issues, injuries and external problems have been dominating the headlines.
Both Joe Root and Nick Compton are competing for the opening berth alongside Cook that was vacated by Strauss, with Compton expected to get the nod after his 65* in the drawn second warm up game. Ian Bell will return home for the birth of his child during the 2nd test, providing middle-order opportunities for Samit Patel, Jonny Bairstow and Eoin Morgan, all of who have scored runs in at least one of the two warm up games thus far. Conditions will also dictate if England will play two spinners, with Monty Panesar hoping to partner Graeme Swann. However, it appears likely that Patel’s good form with the bat and additional part-time spin will give him the nudge if England choose to remain with their usual 3 pace attack and Swann. Meanwhile, Kevin Pietersen’s “reintegration” to the side has been described as a “seamless process”, and will resume his position at number four.
Injuries are another concern for Alistair Cook’s side with Stuart Broad the latest fast bowler to be side-lined after Steven Finn’s strained his thigh during the opening warm-up fixture. Stuart Meaker has been called up to the tour party and subject to a visa permit he will join the squad in the coming days. Cook, Matt Prior and Kevin Pietersen were all rested for the second tour match versus Mumbai after the captain and wicket-keeper made significant contributions (119 and 51 respectively) in the opening warm-up game versus India.
Controversially, India has refused to play a specialist spinner in the tour matches thus far, in retaliation for similar tactics employed by the ECB during India’s 2011 tour to England. Well aware of England’s vulnerabilities against spin bowling, the BCCI are deliberately compromising England’s preparation for the test series in doing so. Virat Kohli speaking to PTI explained, “We were given flattest of tracks during practice matches in England and Australia and then suddenly presented with a green-top during the Tests. If they [England] wanted to be fair to us, they could have provided us with same kind of tracks for practice matches, like what were used in Tests.”
The BCCI have caused further angst by demanding additional fees of $500,000 from Sky and $50,000 from the BBC. The latter is thought to have resolved their standoff but Sky has refused to yield. They believe the ‘realistic costs’ cited by the BCCI should have been included in the broadcast fees paid for the series. Sky have indicated that they will refuse to pay and will therefore not be sending a commentary team to India, instead reporting from London. Considering Sky’s pundits were critical of both Team India and the BCCI last summer, it appears the cricket hierarchy in India is taking the task of revenge quite literally.
Despite the selection headaches and pre-series drama, England can be relatively confident with the knowledge that out of the batsman in the squad, just Joe Root (who is unlikely to play), Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen are yet to post a score of at least fifty on the tour. They have the remaining warm-up game on November 8 as final preparations to capture some form before the first Test in Ahmedabad. Ironically, two from the three in-form batsmen, (Patel, Morgan and Bairstow) will not be selected for at least the first Test. England will be increasingly wary of more injuries to their fast bowling unit, on a tour where wickets are expected to be few and far between.
Image Courtesy: Sadichchha Pokharel (The Global Panorama)