Cricket / The current team is the most inexperienced in dusty Indian conditions

When England arrived a few hours before sunrise on Monday to mark the 14th official Lions tour of India Alastair Cook’s team had a count of 17 players including Kevin Pietersen and 15 experts to deal with the team’s skills, fitness, nutrition and security related parts of the tour. Even the spacious Patiala players’ dressing room at the Brabourne Stadium may be a trifle small to accommodate such a large group when Cook’s team locks horn with India `A’ in a three-day opening tour match from Tuesday.

The size of the present squad is indeed a far cry from the Lions first tour of India in 1933 when Douglas Jardine managed the three-Test series against Col. C. Nayudu’s team with 13 players.

Their skills and knowledge were good enough for England to score an emphatic 2-0 win against India.

Established opener

On the other hand Cook has just taken over the leadership following the retirement of Andrew Strauss with whom he formed England’s all-time best opening partnership delivering 4711 runs in the last six and a half years. Strauss’s absence is a big hole to fill in and Cook will have to contemplate over the next three weeks on his likely replacement leading to the first Test in Ahmedabad.

On a personal note Cook made a fine impression on his Test debut in India scoring 60 and 104 at Nagpur. He has also established himself as a solid opening batsman who has accumulated 6555 runs with 20 centuries that makes him a daunting opponent to deal with at the top of the order.

As of now it appears Cook and the England team management seem to have coped with the acerbic issues related to Pietersen.

Reports suggest that the England has been told to treat the series against India as it would do to Australia in an Ashes. What has surprised the discerning though is England’s option to practice for two days in Dubai than at the venue of the first tour match. According to sources England imported SG Test balls a year ago and simulated spin-friendly pitches in at Dubai.

Clearly the current England team is the most inexperienced in dusty Indian conditions with Pietersen and Ian Bell having played five Tests each and Cook four, among the batsmen and Monty Panesar having played five and James Anderson, three, among the bowlers.

Cook would clearly bank upon Flower and batting coach Graham Gooch to offer their expertise on playing spin; Flower has scored 1138 runs at 94.83 against India (820 runs in five Test matches in India with an unbeaten 232 as his highest) and Gooch has a record of 1725 runs in 19 Tests against India (591 at 42.21 in India).

There have been reports — quite shrill at that — around the personnel picked in the India ‘A’ team. Michael Vaughan and David Lloyd have scoffed at India’s decision to pick an all-seam attack for the first three-day warm up game.

Vaughan has said the Indian selectors’ tactic is not in the spirit of the game. Cook on his part has said his team has the wherewithal to tackle spin — which they will face aplenty.

So the stage is set for England to embark on another serious engagement in India at a venue where some 40 years ago, Farokh Engineer and Gundappa scored fine centuries, Salim Durani clouted sixes on demand, skipper Tony Lewis was out first ball, Tony Greig and Keith Fletcher scored centuries and when England played three spinners in Derek Underwoord, Pat Pocock and Jack Birkenshaw.

The teams (from):

India ‘A’: Suresh Raina (Capt.), M.Vijay, A. Mukund, A. Rahane, M. Tiwary, Yuvraj Singh, W. Saha, A. Menaria, R. Vinay Kumar, Irfan Pathan, Ashok Dinda, P. Awana, R. Bist and A. Rayudu

England: Alastair Cook (Capt.), James Anderson, Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan, Nick Compton, Steven Finn, Graham Onions, Monty Panesar, Samit Patel, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Joe Root, Graeme Swann and Eoin Morgan.

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