The Indian team left Mumbai on Tuesday night for their three-month long tour of Ireland and England, their first real test since the first-round exit from the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies. The tour, which includes 12 ODIs against four countries on either side of three Tests against England, takes place without several familiar names and with a relatively inexperienced bowling attack.
India’s last tour of England, under Sourav Ganguly in 2002, saw them drawing the Test series 1-1 and winning the one-day series. That success was built on the excellent form of the big three batsmen – Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Ganguly – and, in the pre-tour press conference today, Dravid stressed that the key to a good showing on this tour lay with the experienced batting line-up.
In the absence of Virender Sehwag, dropped from both Test and ODI, India have a new opening combination in Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik which adds to the responsibility of the middle-order. “We have experience in the batting department, I am sure that is going to fire,” Dravid said. “If we play to our true potential, I think we can have a very good series. We have to try and play good cricket and maintain the performance right through the tour.”
The fast-bowling attack, however, does not share the same experience. Ishant Sharma has played just one Test, in Bangladesh, Ranadeb Bose has played none and S Sreesanth and RP Singh have 12 Tests between them. Dravid said Zaheer Khan, the most-experienced fast bowler with 47 Tests, had “a big role to play having played county cricket in England”. In the spin department, India dropped Harbhajan Singh from both the Test and ODI squads and picked the 18-year-old Piyush Chawla for the ODIs and Ramesh Powar to back up Anil Kumble in the Tests.
Given the inexperience of the attack, the experience and guidance of Ventakesh Prasad, the bowling coach, could make a sizeable difference. “He has a lot of experience and has been working hard with the youngsters,” said Dravid. “He has a big role to play on the tour.”
The team will be traveling without a coach or an administrative or media manager. Instead, after the fiasco of Graham Ford’s refusal to take up the coaching job, the BCCI chose to appoint Chandu Borde, a former Indian captain, as the cricket manager for this tour. Dravid sought to play down the absence of a regular coach and stressed that Borde would play a vital role on the tour. “Borde will be part of the team management… he will take part in strategies and meetings. He has so much knowledge and experience. In the earlier part of the tour, he will get to know the players and how the team works and get more comfortable with everyone.”
Borde described the tour as a challenge and said he was used to handling such situations. He didn’t join the conditioning camp in Bangalore but said that he had been keeping tabs on the England team. “They have variety in their pace attack and also have a formidable line-up. The team that plays at home always does well. I have been watching them on TV. They are doing well against West Indies. The batting looks comfortable with [Kevin] Pietersen, [Alastair] Cook, [Paul] Collingwood in their ranks.”
The Tests, though, are still a month away; India begin with a one-day international against Ireland on June 23, followed by three matches against South Africa and a match in Glasgow against Pakistan. The three-Test series against England will be followed by seven ODIs.