Thursday, 21 July 2011

England v India - the big one

 And so, with much flourish and trumpeting, it is back to red ball cricket for England as they meet India today at Lords in the first of their four match world-domination-and-mastery-of-the-universe decider.  Red ball cricket - actually more important is that it is white trouser cricket.  Better even would be cream trouser, for the cream trouser on a gentleman has a natural warm feel, unlike the shock white things that Adidas have inflicted on England.  But at least they're in the white zone and not red and black or any colour, but Fantasy Bob digresses.

This is the 2000th Test in Test match history.  It is the 100th meeting between England and India.  It is the unofficial world championship and it presents an opportunity for Sachin Tendulkar to score his 100th international hundred.  There has been some marketing genius at work here and possibly taking artificial stimulants - just one of these would have been enough to sell the seats - 4 is riches too many.

England need to win the series by 2 matches to knock India off the top of the rankings.  England have not won 2 tests in a home series against India since 1974.  Can they do it?  Here is FB's in depth analysis masquerading as a load of old twaddle (or is it the other way round).

This is an arm wrestle between 2 Zimbabwean coaches which must be one for the record books.  Has Fletcher still got it?  How will his relationship with the Indians develop - he joins them at the top - his sojourn with England started with them lower down the pecking order. 

Two very strong batting line ups face each other.  India can be expected to feel the loss of Sehwag - so called Zen master of modern cricket, but they still have Ghambir, Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman, any of whom would walk into FB's All Star Carlton 4th XI.  Dhoni might also get a game too if the side were short. 

FB's one question is - are they practised enough in English conditions?  One warm up match at Somerset doesn't seem enough - and they didn't look all that convincing there.  It is commercial demands that structure international cricket of course and restrict familiarisation times but it may be that this is an indication that conditions are no longer such a signficant factor in cricket - with hermetically sealed wickets, super drained outfields and so on your globe trotting cricketer might find things pretty much the same anywhere he goes.  And he also goes there more often than in the old days so he may know what to expect anyway. It's the same force that has blessed every community with Macdonalds.  Something is lost?

Englands' batting is formidable on its day but FB is worried that it may have gone a bit off the boil. Strauss has lots of pressure on him - if only because he now has to fend off Cook's pretensions to the captaincy.  If he doesn't deliver with the bat he is in trouble, even if the team isn't.  Bell looked out of sorts during the ODI series - England must hope that this was a reaction to the red and black uniform more than anything.  KP is again just that one innings away from being the KP everyone imagines.  FB wonders how much longer KP can be picked on his potential rather than what he delivers.

England's bowling looks to be their area of relative strength and commentators are recalling how many times Anderson has got Tendulkar out in Tests (5 times).  But it is Tremlett who has made most progress this summer. The relative potency of the bowling attacks may be exemplified by comparing the strike rates of Swann and Harbhajan - Swann takes a wicket every 47 balls in England - Harbhajan every 71.  The UDRS system has helped Swann whose tally of LBW dismissals is among the highest on record - but LBW will not be subject to UDRS in this series.

England have a choice to make between Broad and Bresnan.  FB's money is on Bresnan - and Flower's pre match interviews seemed to suggest as much in indicating a bit of frustration at Broad - 'He's not an enforcer' he said, suggesting that Broad had stepped outside his assigned role in the team.

Can't have that these days - even in FB's All Star 4th XI roles are strictly defined and relentlessly drilled.  FB's own role as bowler of intimidating long hops - intimidating because they induce in the batsman a fear of hernia caused by the excessive backlift,vigorous wind up and frenetic bat speed as he attempts to plant the ball over the boundary, the road and the houses beyond.  Such fear is a potent attacking weapon.

Anyway it's Bresnan for FB and Broad must remain a mystery to himself for another few weeks.  FB still wonders about the 4 ball attack - he thinks its limitations were shown against Sri Lanka - particularly at Lords.

And will Tendulkar get his centuries of centuries at Lords?  It would be a fairy tale - he is not on the honours board at Lords - nor is Dravid nor is Laxman (indeed Laxman has not scored a century against England anywhere).  The big soft sentimental interior of FB would like nothing more to see him do it.  But Sachin's average at Lords is poor - 21.28 with a highest score of 37.  FB fears he will not make it this time.

Dravid learns his trade in Scotland
The match?  Lords is not a happy hunting ground for India - they have 1 victory in 15 visits and Lords has become something of a fortess for England in recent years.  FB can't see England losing, but he can see the 4 man attack run out of steam against that fine Scottish international player also known as the wall and his colleagues.  FB sniffs a draw - although he thinks that England will shade the series but not by the margin necessary for world domination.  But then what does FB know?

And why is red ball or cream trouser cricket so important?  Here is a fine article by Gideon Haigh which explains why.

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