By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
India. It’s the toughest tour of them all. No-one particularly likes the grueling scraps in South Africa, the heat of the Caribbean or the ‘having to listen Australians bragging’ of Australia, but none of those tours provide a set of challenges quite like India.
Winning a series in the subcontinent is seen as the hallmark of a top class side. The intensity, the quality opposition and the unfavourable conditions both on and off the pitch combine to make it a huge challenge. England have had the satisfaction of leaving the Aussies Ashes-less and climbed to the top of the world rankings in the last couple of years, but becoming the first England team to win in India since 1985 would be among the team’s most impressive achievements.
“It is the toughest tour. It’s a place you have to go to and win if you want to be the complete cricketer,” England legend Mike Gatting told the BBC ahead of the first Test.
‘Cautiously optimistic’ is the vibe the England camp has been sending out ahead of the series opener in Ahmedabad. They’ve got enough talent to match the Indians, but there’s uncertainty about how the players will adapt to the conditions. But a lot of England’s players are used to parking up their money trucks at the door of the IPL and therefore far more comfortable with India than previous generations.
England may not have won too many Tests in India over the last 30 years, but they’ve also been more competitive than the bare bones of the depressing stats reflect. Even with home advantage, the hosts have won just three of the last eight Tests against England. That’s enough to claim two of the last three series, but is far from total dominance and putting too much faith in it seems as ill-advised as a Kevin Pietersen text message. The stats tell us that of the 50 Tests England have played in India:
- England have won 22 per cent
- India have won 27 per cent
- It’s a draw 51 per cent of the time
One of the worries getting a regular run-out is England’s difficulties in playing spin. As if the sight of a trundling off-spinner leaves them as perplexed as dog looking at another dog on the television. Shane Warne clearly opened wounds that haven’t yet healed.
There may still be a nugget of truth to it, but it’s less relevant in the world of modern cricket, England’s batsmen travel the world so often and face both quality spin and the Indian bowlers far more than they would have in the past.
‘Everyone in the batting unit is feeling confident now,’ said captain, Alistair Cook addressing the spin issue. ‘Clearly there has been a message of some kind not to bowl spin. Who knows whether it will backfire on India.’
In truth, England’s spinners can make as much hay as their hosts. If Graeme Swann finds his form, he’s as dangerous as Ashwin. If – and that’s an admittedly bigger if – Monty Panesar gets picked and performs consistently, it’s actually England who may benefit more from the turn-friendly conditions.
4/1 for England to win the first Test feels a little on the big side. India have won three just of the 11 Tests they’ve played at Ahmedabad, which makes it far from a fortress. The great big, slighted bored elephant in the room is the draw. Six of those 11 Tests have ended in a stalemate and the evidence points towards more of the same in the coming days. Nice weather for a cactus is predicted and batsmen have tended to prosper at the venue, making the draw the 6/5 favourite.
The two options can be bundled together however, The Double Chance option of backing England or the Draw @ 4/7 covers varying degrees of positivity about the visitors.
It’s hard to ignore Kevin Pietersen and with the obligatory contrition and forgiveness all sorted out from Textgate, he is expected to return to the England team. It’s got a whiff of Disney fairytale meets CB Fry, but backing KP to prosper upon his return may not be a bad idea. If you can leave aside the sentiment and look at it logically, he’s got the most experience of batting in India, he often takes a shine to spin bowling and then of course comes his undoubted talent. He’s 10/3 to be England’s Top 1st Innings Runscorer and 4/1 to score a 1st Innings century</strong>.