All eyes will be on Sachin Tendulkar when he tries to score the 100th international hundred of his magnificent career during the first Test between England and India at Lord’s. But it is the wider issues at stake which make this a really fascinating series and England, who want to knock India off their No 1 Test ranking spot, will have to be very positive in their approach if they are to beat them.
I see Lord’s as the perfect opportunity for England to get a fast start – the poor weather recently will mean the pitch has not had as much pre-preparation as it would have done and, if live grass is left on the surface as is usually the case at Lord’s, I think there is a chance for England’s seamers to do some damage against Tendulkar and India’s strong batting line-up.
Sachin is up there with Don Bradman as the best batsman the world has ever seen, and in my view he might even be better than Bradman. I don’t care what anyone says – if the Don was playing in the modern game he would not average 99 in Test cricket. It’s because of that remarkable average that Bradman is seen as the greatest batsman, but I think Tendulkar has been tested in ways that Bradman didn’t have the opportunity to be, and in many more different conditions. I’ve bowled against Sachin, too, in his younger days, and so I know from experience just how good he is.
As an England supporter, I hope Tendulkar doesn’t get that 100th hundred at Lord’s – even though he’s a lovely man as well as a brilliant cricketer – simply because it will give Andrew Strauss’s team a much better chance of opening the four-match series with a win.
I see the two sides as being very well matched. Both batting line-ups are very strong indeed, even though Virender Sehwag is missing the start of the series and that again gives England possibly a little early edge. England, with Cook, Trott and Bell in such form and with Prior coming in at seven, have the capacity to make big totals.
People have said this series will come down to how England’s bowling attack fare against India’s batsmen. They say England’s attack is stronger than India’s. I am not so sure it is as simple as that. I see India’s seam attack as being just as capable of doing some damage – with Ishant Sharma being as much of a danger in English conditions as Zaheer Khan.
Zaheer’s successes against left-handers – and England have three in their top six – could of course be a factor again, but Sharma has pace, gets good bounce from his height and most importantly he can duck the ball back into the right-handers with good control. Praveen Kumar is a third Indian seamer who impresses me – he swings the ball both ways and again, in English conditions, he could make an impact.
I’m not sure if Harbhajan Singh, on pitches here, will be quite the force he is in the sub-continent, but his off spinning duel with Graeme Swann during the series will also be fascinating to watch.
So much, for me, depends on the surfaces and the conditions that the matches are played in, but if the batsmen from both sides are initially on top then I would want to see England opting for the aggressive move of pushing Prior up to six and including five frontline bowlers. Tim Bresnan and Stuart Broad, who seem to be fighting it out for one available place for Lord’s, could then both play and bat at seven and eight.
I can see draws at both Lord’s and Trent Bridge, and if that is the case then the third Test at Edgbaston might well be the time for England to go all out for the 20 Indian wickets they need to take to win a match. If you want to get to No 1 in the world then you have to be prepared at times to go to all out attack.
But, first, England have to start well at Lord’s and try to put pressure on India, who didn’t bat very well down at Taunton against Somerset and may not have had as much time as they should have had acclimatising here. They also have to try to shake up India’s self-belief, which is very strong under MS Dhoni who is an outstanding captain and a very calm and inspirational leader.
Dhoni never seems to get in a flap and is himself part of the fearsome-looking Indian batting line-up. He leads from the front as a player, but it would be interesting to see how he copes if the likes of Chris Tremlett and Jimmy Anderson, with a bit in the pitch, get in amongst the India top order.
England will be thinking that home advantage makes them slight favourites, and under Andy Flower and the current management set-up they are a much better prepared side and a much better managed side than has been the case in the past. Yes, England can match India – but have they got enough to beat them? These are four Test matches to savour.
*John Emburey played 64 Tests for England, captaining them twice.