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Revenge and redemption embody India's England tour opener


Jaspreet Sahni,Cricketnext
Jul 09, 2014 at 08:31am IST

There was brouhaha about India's last England tour. The 2000th Test coincided with the 100th between the two nations, hence the commotion.

At the end of that tour in 2011, there was stillness in the Indian camp - the visitors stood immobile, heads hanging. On the other side of the presentation ceremony, their English hosts swam in beer - celebrating a 4-0 washout.

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Those wounds doubled on the subsequent tour of Australia, who meted out another 4-0 rout, turning the just crowned ODI champions into a subject of censure. Back-to-back fiascos gave birth to a public outcry that extended to a demand for sacking Dhoni.

Revenge and redemption embody India's England tour opener

Cook and Dhoni pose with the trophy prior to the first Test on Wednesday. (AFP)

But Dhoni, according to the then selection committee member Mohinder Amarnath, was rescued from the chopping block by N Srinivasan. The captain survived and then thrived in a whole year of international cricket at home for India.

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Now it's England time again - three years from those ignominious eight consecutive overseas Test defeats.

However, India's overseas woes haven't subsided; in fact, since the Test victory in West Indies in 2011, the former Test No. 1 team has been winless in the last 14 Tests on foreign soil spread across three years.

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That puts pressure on Dhoni, who is probably on his last England tour, to redeem himself from an unceremonious 2011 visit and buff up his tag of 'most successful India captain'.

The 2011 whitewash made England the new No. 1 Test team, displacing India in the most ruthless manner possible. But like India, England too have been dragged down to earth after celebrating their stint at the top, which at times turned idiotic to the extent of urinating on the pitch.

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England's downfall began in as ruthless fashion as their climb to the summit. A 5-0 Ashes mauling in Australia exposed England away from the home comfort where they had re-claimed the urn a few months back. And the first ever home Test series loss to Sri Lanka has turned the heat on England, especially skipper Alastair Cook who has now gone 24 innings without a Test century.

But it will be India's folly to rank the Englishmen lesser mortals because of their downslide in the last few months. In fact, they could be reinvigorated at the sight of the Indians who - on their first tour of England since the departure of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman - have just three in the touring 18 (Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir, Ishant Sharma) with previous Test experience in the English summer.

While Cook's worries border largely around batting, bowlers have been giving Dhoni headaches.

None, but a woefully off-colour Ishant, has ever played a Test in England, which may once again leave India struggling to take 20 wickets. Indications have been made towards Dhoni going in with a 6-5 combination, with a strong possibility of Stuart Binny being the fourth pacer - besides Ishant, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami - and Ravindra Jadeja as the lone specialist spinner.

That could also mean Rohit Sharma losing the battle for a place in the eleven to Ajinkya Rahane, with Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, and Dhoni completing the batting line-up. There could also be a small tussle between Vijay and Gambhir for the opening slot, with the former expected to get the nod and extend Gambhir's wait for a comeback.

England, while struggling to address their batting woes, are also sorely missing the off-spin of Graeme Swann, who has retired, and the assured batting of Jonathan Trott, who returned midway from the Ashes in Australia citing depression and has just returned to county cricket. Kevin Pietersen is the other man who won't be on the England sheet after being shown the exit door by ECB.

One worry for England is the fitness of Matt Prior, who has a thigh strains and remains a doubtful starter. That has earned Jos Buttler a call-up, putting him in line for a Test debut.

But like India, the absence of Swann, Pietersen and Trott signals transition for England as well. And a series as long as five Tests, beginning Wednesday, throws up an opportunity for both the sides to test players on all fronts.

PROBABLE XIs:

INDIA: 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Murali Vijay / Gautam Gambhir, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 MS Dhoni (c/wk), 7 Stuart Binny, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Ishant Sharma, 10 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 11 Mohammad Sham

ENGLAND: 1 Alastair Cook (c), 2 Sam Robson, 3 Gary Ballance, 4 Ian Bell, 5 Joe Root, 6 Moeen Ali, 7 Matt Prior / Jos Buttler (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Liam Plunkett, 10 Chris Jordan, 11 James Anderson

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