New Delhi: England jet into Mumbai on Monday under new captain Alastair Cook, striving to win their first Test series in India in 27 years against a home team desperate to make amends for last year's 4-0 drubbing. The four-Test series, starting in Ahmedabad on November 15, will be further spiced up by Kevin Pietersen's return to the England fold after his exile and hints that Indian legend Sachin Tendulkar is on the brink of retirement.
The series gives the home side an opportunity to make amends for the humiliating 4-0 whitewash in England last year that saw them dethroned as the number one Test side - and their replacement by England. Mahendra Singh Dhoni's team then suffered another 4-0 defeat in Australia, capping a miserable six-month period that took the shine off India's 50-over World Cup triumph in 2011.
But with the series against England followed by four Tests against Australia in February-March, India, ranked fifth in the world, will look to take advantage of familiar conditions to haul themselves back up the rankings. Dhoni has urged groundsmen to prepare wickets that suit spin bowling and selectors refused to pick a spinner for England's three-day opener in Mumbai from Tuesday, denying the tourists early exposure to the turning ball.
"When we go to England, we get wickets that help the seamers and in Australia you get tracks with bounce," said Dhoni. "In the subcontinent, spin is what matters and we should stick to that."
England, who last won a Test series in India under David Gower in 1985 and lost their number one status to South Africa in August, will receive a boost from the return of the dangerous Pietersen. Pietersen, who has hit more than 7,000 Test runs at a shade under 50, smashed a brilliant 144 in England's last Test on Indian soil in 2008 and knows the conditions well as a player for Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League.
And the 32-year-old will be keen to impress after he was dropped in August for sending text messages to touring South Africa players that contained criticism of then skipper Andrew Strauss. Numerous meetings with England team bosses and players eventually saw him added at the last minute to the Indian tour party and Cook said Pietersen was "contrite" over his actions and would be welcomed back into the squad.
India, who began their busy home season by winning both Tests against lowly New Zealand in August and September before being ousted in the second round of the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, are facing a future without Tendulkar. The plans of the 39-year-old superstar are in the spotlight after the admitted earlier this month that the clock was ticking on his run-filled 23-year career.
"I don't think I have plenty of cricket left in me," said Tendulkar, the highest run-scorer in Test and one-day cricket history -- and the only batsman to notch 100 international centuries.
Tendulkar, who has scored a record 51 Test centuries, has now gone 25 innings without a hundred in the five-day format since making 146 against South Africa in Cape Town in January 2011. He was bowled in all three innings against New Zealand with a top score of just 27, raising fears that age may finally be catching up with him.
England have the rare luxury of two three-day games and one four-day match to acclimatise to Indian conditions before the series starts in Ahmedabad. Further Tests are scheduled for Mumbai, Kolkata and Nagpur. The tourists, who also play two Twenty20 matches following the Tests, will go home for Christmas before returning in the New Year for a five-match one-day series.