The current stint in England, whetted by fine outings in the two warm-up games against Leicestershire (drawn) and Derbyshire (won), is part of a conveyor belt of tours over the last eight months.

India’s tryst with cricket overseas gets another critical instalment in a year that has more challenges lined up: a tour to Australia followed by the 2015 World Cup at the same venue and in New Zealand.

The current stint in England, whetted by fine outings in the two warm-up games against Leicestershire (drawn) and Derbyshire (won), is part of a conveyor belt of tours over the last eight months.

Earlier, trips to South Africa and New Zealand yielded an identical 0-1 defeat while the ODI series were squandered 0-2 and 0-4 respectively. The limited overs squad has found a nucleus while the Test team, still nursing pangs of transition, has so far lured an indulgent stare.

It is a luxury that might wane in the coming months.

Having dropped anchor in England, India has a chance to prove that the right lessons have been imbibed in South Africa and New Zealand. M.S. Dhoni’s men also have a chance of hurting a host still grappling with its Ashes humiliation. A misery which worsened when the visiting Sri Lankans won the Test series 1-0.

The first Test here at Trent Bridge from Wednesday is part of a five-match series, a first for an Indian squad bred upon abridged series that involved two to four games. India last played a five-Test series in the West Indies in 2002 and lost 1-2.

The challenges of a long-winding series with its emphasis on the longer format, can test a young bunch that is more tuned to instant gratification through ODIs and Twenty20s.

Interestingly while James Anderson and Stuart Broad, despite niggles and an apparent dip in potency, stand atop their bowling mark, facing them would be a group of batsmen, who are yet to play a single Test in England.

Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane have to adapt to the conditions and hopefully they have picked Rahul Dravid’s brains.

The batting legend briefly donned a consultant’s role and with him scheduled to be a part of the commentary team, the players will surely have access to him.  

Remember, Dravid, with three Test hundreds, was the stand-out performer in what was a doomed tour here in 2011.

Among the rest, Gautam Gambhir, on a comeback trail, and Dhoni have had their Test sojourns in England. It remains to be seen if the current series will mark a revival in Gambhir’s career, just like how the 2003-04 Australia tour rejuvenated Virender Sehwag.

Dhoni and coach Duncan Fletcher will keep a penetrative eye upon the bowlers. Twice — at Johannesburg and Wellington — when India held the edge, the opposition had effected a rear-guard action.

India’s greatest match-winning bowler Anil Kumble never tires of repeating ‘you need 20 wickets to win a Test’ and it is this aspect that goes missing especially after the Indians breeze through the immigration counters at international airports.

Senior role for Ishant

Ishant Sharma, with 55 Tests and 164 wickets, has been pitch-forked into the senior’s seat following Zaheer Khan’s injury. He and the rest, ranging from Mohammed Shami to Stuart Binny, have to hit the right lengths. The spin department, where Dhoni has preferred Ravindra Jadeja to R. Ashwin, will have a role too as Rangana Herath proved for the Sri Lankans.

The recent debacles may have pushed England to a corner but for India, the string of defeats here in 2011, still hurt.

However if India can follow its footprints from the triumphant tours of 1971, 1986 and 2007, the team will gain confidence while squaring up in Australia for Tests as well as the World Cup. The five Tests will pave the way for five ODIs and a lone T20. Truly, this is a tour that will stretch India’s resources and throw a pointer to the road ahead.

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