The world’s number one ranked side are coming to town and England must prepare for what could be their greatest challenge of recent years. India are currently rated the outstanding side in all forms of world cricket and England’s aspirations to usurp them at the top of at least the Test format rely heavily upon their forthcoming series.
The challenge before them seems incredibly tough with India having unsurprisingly brought a fresh and full-strength squad after resting key names in their series against the West Indies. The likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Zaheer Khan, Harbajhan Singh and MS Dhoni will all return looking to add to their already well founded track records in English conditions.
Add to this the enthusiasm and raw talent of their younger charges such as Ishant Sharma and England’s task really does appear to be formidable.
England’s long-term goal to become the greatest Test side in the world may not be such a huge problem as India are currently have an old squad which may be superb for now, but a period of transition is surely inevitable.
Soon masters of the sport like Tendulkar and Dravid will have to retire and the baton will be passed to the younger crop of talent. We await to see if the likes of Sharma can handle the pressure and continue to achieve when the experienced heads aren’t there to support them.
For now though England must not get ahead of themselves. They have to prepare for the challenge of facing up to the most complete side they have encountered in years. This level of opposition has probably not been seen before an English Test side since the swan song of Australia’s ‘Golden Generation’ in the 2007 Ashes series Down Under. Sadly we all remember only too well how that went.
Having mentioned such dark days it is important to underline that England have come along way since then in all formats of the game. This is probably attributable to the set-up in place to support the current English sides in all forms of the game. Head Coach Andy Flower along with major back-room staff David Saker, Graham Gooch and Richard Halsall has seen major improvements across all of bowling, batting and fielding. Such improvements have seen an increase in confidence and ‘aura’ surrounding this England side, as was highlighted so much throughout the unforgettable 2005 Ashes series. With an increased level of confidence in their ability, England have gone on to record back-to-back Ashes series victories both at home and abroad and have become the reigning World Twenty20 Champions. Though successes in the 50 Over format have been limited by contrast, the recent series victory against World Cup finalists Sri Lanka points towards a new and more positive approach to One-Day Internationals.
At present it seems that the Test format is England’s strongest suit and that is why such emphasis has been placed upon achieving that number one ranking. The management and selectors of the Test side appeared to have invested a great deal of optimism and confidence in our current Test squad. There has been something of an epiphany regarding the depth of talent there ready and available for the selectors at present, and a realisation that we can now boast many of the world’s finest Test match cricketers.
The management appear to have aided the rise of players such as Alistair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Graeme Swann and James Anderson into the current world forces in their particular disciplines. Alongside these in-form stars England can now boast a truly matured and World-Class wicketkeeper/batsman in Matt Prior, a brooding Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad striving to recapture their finest form and an innovative, quick-scoring, middle-order run machine in Eoin Morgan.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the English game at present though is the fast-bowling department. In addition to the truly world class Anderson, England have a long queue of outstanding talent in this area. Messrs Stuart Broad, Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn, Tim Bresnan, Ajmal Shahzad, Graham Onions and Jade Dernbach have all represented their country within the past eighteen months and have each impressed. For now Tremlett appears to be a dead-cert in the line-up courtesy of some outstanding form after being brought in to the side halfway through the Ashes. Aside from this England could pick any one of the remaining six contenders to fill the remaining slot in their much-feared four man attack.
It seems likely that the selectors will stick with the currently out-of-form Broad, with his case strongly supported by the rewards reaped from having stuck with fellow youngster Alistair Cook in his times of trouble last summer. It seems that his ability to contribute quick and important runs down the order even if he isn’t firing with the ball may well maintain the edge he has over other potential suitors in the meantime. However, Broad must deliver and do it soon otherwise the others will start to prowl. This is the beauty of England’s current predicament, there really does appear to be a list of players able to step in to fill any non-firing members of the side. Few players are entirely safe in their position for the first time in a long time and this competition can only improve the current squad on a consistent basis.
With conditions likely to favour them, expectations of England are very high going into this series. They may be up against some of the finest players ever to play Test cricket, but they should aim high. They themselves now have really outstanding players, a mix of genuine raw talent and realised potential.
If they remain optimistic and perform to the best of their ability then I believe that they can prove the great strength of their current side and come out victorious. Having said that, it really will require their very best otherwise the series will be India’s for the taking. Both sides contain genuine match-winners and it should make for an intriguing battle, this is however dependent on whether the marvellous English summer allows some more cricket than it did against Sri Lanka.