Indians need a balanced bowling attack

By Ashis Ray, IANS 

London : Indian cricketers led by Rahul Dravid assembled here Wednesday for the most important leg of their visit to the British Isles – the tour of England for three test matches and seven one-day internationals.

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The first Test begins on July 19 at Lord's. This will also celebrate 75 years of India in Test cricket. The Indians made their maiden appearance at the same venue in June 1932.

Those in the squad for the one-day internationals against South Africa and Pakistan, were joined by Test specialists V.V.S. Laxman, Anil Kimble and Wasim Jaffer, along with Ishant Sharma and Ranadeb Bose.

The last two, though, had joined the team in Belfast itself as cover for players laid low by a virus.

To beat South Africa in conditions, which unequivocally aided their superior pace attack was a shot in the arm for the Indians, shell-shocked after the defeat to Bangladesh and early eviction from the World Cup in March.

A victory over Pakistan under their belt might have further boosted their self-belief. But the cruel Glaswegean weather dashed such prospects.

Significantly, Pakistan was easily eclipsed in the Tests in England last summer. It would, therefore, be a folly to underestimate the Englishmen in home conditions.

They have not lost a home series since 2001 and now have quality batsmen like Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell in their ranks, in addition to the experienced Michael Vaughan and Paul Collingwood, who was recently named the ODI captain.

India, under Sourav Ganguly, did well to square the series at Headingley after losing at Lord's in 2002 – when Anil Kumble, with seven wickets in the match, foxed the Englishmen after Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Ganguly himself and Sanjay Bangar had batted magnificently in the seamer-friendly circumstances of Leeds.

Team India is fortunate to be again touring in the second half of the summer, when the weather generally gets warmer and the pitches drier. Also, none of the Tests will be held in the more challenging wickets of northern England.

Apart from Lord's, the venues are Trent Bridge, reputedly the best batting track in England, and the Kennington Oval, which can be conducive to spin.

As always, solidity in the top order will make the difference. In this respect, consistency from Jaffer is crucial and given Dinesh Karthik's increasing soundness, he should open with him. The preference between Laxman, Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni should be in that order.

Left-arm seamer Ryan Sidebottom is in prime form, bending the ball disconcertingly, while Monty Panesar should not be under-rated either.

If Tendulkar can continue from where he left off at Belfast, this would be a considerable comfort for Dravid.

India's worries are really in the bowling department. While Kumble's presence is undoubtedly a tonic for them, can they be adequately served by their quick bowlers?

Based on their performances against South Africa, S. Sreesanth and Zaheer Khan should be automatic choices. But who among Rudra Pratap Singh, Sharma and Bose, if any, should fill the third seamer's slot?

At Lord's and Trent Bridge, three faster bowlers are recommended, unless the tour selectors reach the conclusion Ramesh Powar is more likely to take wickets – and he flighted the ball beautifully at Belfast – than any of the younger quicks.

It will be interesting to see how Bose, a specialist swing bowler, shapes in the fixtures against Sussex and Hampshire before the Lord's Test.