The first test in this four match series between India and England takes place in Ahmedabad on Thursday (4am GMT).
England’s tough challenge has been made even harder by injuries to two of their key bowlers. While Middlesex paceman Steven Finn has already been ruled out of the first match, Stuart Broad is facing a late fitness test on a damaged heel and his place must be in serious doubt.
India are pre-match favourites and the chances of an early victory for MS Dhoni’s side will only have been enhanced by England’s problems.
This is a transitional period for England following the retirement of their skipper Andrew Strauss at the end of the domestic season. Alastair Cook should move seamlessly into the captain’s chair but Strauss’s role as an opening batsman will be harder to fill.
Nick Compton is likely to partner Cook at the top of the order after the Somerset man started to find form in the warm up matches but his inexperience at this level is an area that the home side will target.
The return of Kevin Pietersen means that the selectors will not have to field another inexperienced batsman in the crucial number four position. The middle order will therefore have a familiar look to it – at least until Ian Bell returns home later in the tour for the birth of his child.
India have also been forced into recent changes following the retirements of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. In Dravid’s absence, Virat Kohli is starting to realise his undoubted potential while Cheteshwar Pujara filled in for Laxman with a hundred in the recent series against New Zealand.
One area for England to target is the opening pair of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir who have struggled to find their best form, while even the great Sachin Tendulkar has underachieved in recent tests – certainly by his significant standards.
Choosing the right bowling line-up will therefore be vital and those injuries to Broad and Finn won’t help the tourists to exploit any weaknesses. Expect the selectors to take the obvious choice and replace Finn with Tim Bresnan but while the Yorkshire bowler is a steady and economical performer, can he take enough wickets on the flat, unhelpful pitches of India?
Graeme Swann has returned to the squad after travelling home following his daughter’s illness and England will now decide whether to include Monty Panesar as the second spinner as opposed to Samit Patel as a batting all rounder. Nottinghamshire’s Patel has found some fine form with the bat in the warm up matches so don’t be surprised if the selectors include all three men for this first game.
Overall, the match will be decided by England’s batsmen and if they crumble, as they did against Pakistan and Sri Lanka’s spinners last winter, this will be an easy win for the hosts.
Cook’s men can build a big score on first innings and the bowlers can then test India’s batting but sadly, in the first game at least, I can see another batting collapse for the tourists.