New Delhi: Ahead of the first Test between India and England starting November 15 in Ahmedabad, you get the sense that the deciding factor could well be how some of the big names go in head-to-head scraps. India will start favourites due to home advantage, but, as Alastair Cook has spoke of already on tour, this is a side that reached the No. 1 spot in Tests and that knows what is required in Indian conditions.
In that vein, here’s a look at some of the key contests that might well decide the fate of the four-match series.
Sachin Tendulkar v James Anderson Going by numbers alone, there is little to work with in terms of Anderson’s success in India: in three Test matches here he has taken 10 wickets at 29.30. Overall against India, he averages 29.57 for each of his 45 wickets in ten matches. But what’s the most significant is that of those 45 wickets, Anderson has claimed Sachin Tendulkar the most over any other Indian batsman – seven times in ten Tests.
Of those seven dismissals, three have been lbw, three caught behind the wicket between the ‘keeper and gully, and one bowled – a fine delivery at The Oval in 2007 that will rank as one of Anderson’s best in Tests. These seven wickets have been spread across six Tests in which Anderson has taken 25 victims at 19.37, so clearly when he’s able to dismiss Tendulkar he has been in top gear. Tendulkar has had problems with Anderson’s away movement, such as in Mumbai in 2006 and Mohali in 2008, but more against the ball that comes in. Anderson would be aware of Tendulkar’s recent run of bowled dismissals, so how he gets the ball to shape after pitching will be engaging to watch.
Over the last two and a half years, Anderson has evolved into a complete bowler. He averages 24 in his last five Tests in Asia, and he has proven a potent force away from home. Anderson recently admitted that as a fast bowler he wanted Tendulkar to respect him too. On current form, Anderson has the upper hand.
Gautam Gambhir v Stuart Broad
On the face of it, considering Gautam Gambhir’s poor run against England last summer (102 runs at 17) and his recent run of form, coupled with Stuart Broad’s success against India (25 wickets at 13.84) this contest could be a mismatch. Gambhir’s tendency to get out poking the ball behind the stumps has been a major cause for concern – though he has repeatedly shrugged it off while pointing to figures – and Broad’s ability to hammer away outside off stump sets this mini-battle up in favor of the bowler. The additional pace he gets will also give Broad a distinct sense of an advantage over the left-hander.
Kevin Pietersen v Pragyan Ojha
If Kevin Pietersen has a weakness then it appears to be slow left-arm spin, the only type of bowling against which his average is below 40 in Test cricket. England’s No. 4 has been dismissed 23 times by left-arm spinners, and interestingly these dismissals have all come in the last four years. For the first half of his career, Pietersen never fell to the slow left-arm stuff.
Pietersen’s dismissals to left-arm spin include four bowled, two caught behinds, one stumping and eight lbws. In ODIs too he has had problems against this variety of bowling, being dismissed 18 times by left-arm spinners. In this regard, it would not be surprising to see MS Dhoni toss the ball to Pragyan Ojha as soon as Pietersen walks to the crease. Yuvraj Singh has also tasted success against Pietersen, proving that he isn’t just a “pie chucker” as the England superstar once alluded to his bowling.
Ian Bell versus spin
Ian Bell may have molded himself into England’s middle-order bedrock, but he has struggled to score runs against spin overseas this year. In the UAE eight months ago he managed just 52 runs in six Test innings, failing to cope with Saeed Ajmal and Adbur Rehman, and so there will be much speculation on his presence in the upcoming series. Bell has not always been confident on slow pitches and against wily spinners, of which India can boast two in home conditions – R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, a pair that in a short span of time has proven mighty effective together.
Bell has regularly thwarted India’s bowling at home (where he averages 57.83) but in India his five Tests have produced just 180 runs at 20. Bell’s scores in the warm-ups read 5, 4, 28*, 62 and 48, and there is also the distraction of his wife’s expectancy for which Bell will fly home after the first Test. With Ashwin and Ojha possessing the gift of bowling long, telling spells it will be fascinating to see how Bell copes.
R Ashwin v Graeme Swann
India’s lead spinner has never played a Test against England. But his potency at home versus West Indies and New Zealand – 40 wickets at 18.40 in five Tests – shows a bowler brimming with confidence. England’s batsman should provide a far sterner test than Ashwin’s previous opponents, but Graeme Swann’s recent comments about how India lack a mystery spinner appear to have given Ashwin more drive to do well.
Swann, 33, is a seasoned bowler with success all over the world. He made his Test debut in India in 2008, taking the wickets of Gambhir and Rahul Dravid in his first over, and knows a thing or two about bowling to India’s batsmen. Besides watching Swann in action up close, Ashwin will also want to outdo him in terms of guile, potency and wickets. Two spinners of the same ilk against each other? Now that’s a contest we don’t get to see enough of today.
X-factor: Yuvraj Singh
His last few appearances in whites were hardly anything to boast of, but the fact that he has been fast-tracked into India’s Test team shows how keen the home team is to have Yuvraj Singh back. Yuvraj the Test player has never been the same creature in one-day matches, but his all-round performance against the tourists in a three-day warm-up match in Mumbai recently indicates that the left-hander could be a thorn in England’s side. Yuvraj will be desperate to prove himself in Test cricket, and this could well be the last chance he gets to add to his 37 caps. For a man driven by the thrill of battle, this could be a very special series.