India begin their 73-day tour of England with a three-day match against Leicestershire on Thursday, with hope of getting some valuable match practice and acclimatisation prior to the start of the Test series, which beings on July 9.
Venue: Grace Road, Leicester
Date: Thursday, June 26
Time: 11 a.m. BST; 3:30 p.m. IST
Weather: According to AccuWeather, it is expected to be cloudy at Leicester for all three days of the game, with the chance of thunderstorms toward the weekend.
The games are over. After two months of engaging in a pyrotechnic Twenty20 cricket carnival on flat pitches in the Indian Premier League, followed by a rain-curtailed three-match one-day series against Bangladesh, the Indian team gets down to business with a tour of England, involving five Test matches, five one-day internationals and one Twenty20 international.
India is playing a five-Test series for the first time since 2002. The last time the Indians toured England for five Tests was back in 1959. None of the 18 members of the touring party have ever engaged in a tour so long; only three have played a Test in England before.
The challenge ahead of this young Indian team, which is in transition after the retirement of its golden generation—including the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble—in the build-up to the 2015 World Cup is a colossal one.
The next overseas tour for India following England is a trip Down Under later this year. The last time Dhoni's men toured England and Australia back-to-back, as they would have been reminded time and again by the press, they lost eight Test matches in a row—a fact that will be dangling over their heads like the sword of Damocles.
However, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who at 32 is one of the most experienced members of the squad, trusts his young side to banish the ghosts of the past. Speaking at a press conference prior to the team's departure to the UK, Dhoni said, as quoted by ESPN Cricinfo:
Quite a few of the players will be playing their first series in England. But most of the players in the squad have got exposure in South Africa and New Zealand, so they have got a few games behind them and they know what the challenges will be.
They have come in and are going to serve Indian cricket. It will be a big challenge for them. The good thing is they have had good exposure, playing a few games abroad and having played a lot at home. They have the talent. It's just that they have to get used to the conditions, apply themselves and give respect to the opposition and read the conditions.
Before such a long tour commences, the touring team always prefers playing a few practice games to get acclimatised. In 2011, the Indians played just one tour match, against Somerset, before the first Test and their lack of match practice was evident in the Test series that followed. This time around, they're playing two and would hope to make the most of them.
However, up against India in the next week are two teams which languish at the bottom of Division Two of the English County Championship—Leicestershire and Derbyshire. Nevertheless, Dhoni is confident that the games would help his squad prepare for the long tour ahead. He said in the same chat:
The good thing will be we are going a bit early, so we can take our time to get into the groove, play a few practice games and prepare ourselves. Besides, it's a five-match series and I don't think any of us have played a five-Test series. Overall, it should be good, the reason being we have enough time to prepare ourselves.
Leicestershire wicketkeeper Niall O'Brien is equally excited at the prospect of playing the cricket world giants that are India. In a column for the Leicester Mercury, O'Brien wrote, as reported by The Indian Express:
It is always a great experience, especially for the younger lads, to play against MS Dhoni and Co… For the [Leicestershire] Foxes, it will be a great test for our batsmen and bowlers to show what they can do against a Test side.
Opener Angus Robson is fresh off two half-centuries in a county match against Surrey this week and would be looking to provide a stern test for India's inexperienced bowling line-up, which includes three bowlers who are yet to make their debut (Ishwar Pandey, Pankaj Singh, Stuart Binny) and one who has played just a single Test (Varun Aaron).
India are allowed to use 15 players out of their 18-member squad for this match and are expected to pick their strongest XI. Batsmen Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli—both of whom are in the ICC's Top 10 world rankings for batsmen—have never played in England before and would be eager to get off on the right note.
It would also be interesting to see if India play third-choice opener Gautam Gambhir. The 32-year-old is back in the squad after 18 months and has the experience of playing in English conditions as early as last year, when he played for Essex. A good outing would do his chances of featuring in the Test series no harm.
Josh Cobb (captain), Niall O'Brien (wk), Matthew Boyce, Nathan Buck, Ned Eckersley, Ollie Freckingham, Lewis Hill, Anthony Ireland, Richard Jones, Jigar Naik, Ben Raine, Dan Redfern, Angus Robson, Rob Sayer, Charlie Shreck, Greg Smith, Scott Styris, James Sykes, Rob Taylor, Shiv Thakor, Michael Thornley, Tom Wells, Alex Wyatt.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain & wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Ishwar Pandey, Varun Aaron, Stuart Binny, Pankaj Singh, Wriddhiman Saha.
With the game being just a three-day affair, the possibility of getting a result for either team is bleak. From India's perspective, their batsmen would hope to spend as much time as possible out in the middle, gauging the alien surface and conditions, before James Anderson and Stuart Broad come knocking.
Looking to prove themselves would be the likes of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, who have been criticised for their lack of runs away from home.
The bowlers, who apart from Ishant Sharma have never played a long-form match in England, would also be anticipating a good workout. Last time around, Somerset put up 425 for three on the board before having mercy on the Indians and declaring. If the tourists can avoid such a beating and perhaps reverse the scores, it would augur well for them ahead of the Test series.