England set for tough spin test
England bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad during a nets session in Ahmedabad on Tuesday. Photo: AFP
England faces a trial by spin as it bids to win its first Test series in India in 27 years starting in Ahmedabad on Thursday.
The newly-laid wicket at the Motera stadium, expected to assist spin over all five days, will suit a home team desperate to avenge the 4-0 humiliation in England last year.
England proved vulnerable against the turning ball away from home this year, losing 3-0 to Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in January-February before forcing a 1-1 draw in Sri Lanka in March.
The tourists now confront an Indian side that usually makes up for its poor record abroad by dominating all comers on home soil where it has lost just one series out of 16 in the past 10 years.
India will use two frontline spinners - possibly three if a rank turner is provided - to bamboozle England in the four Tests in Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Kolkata and Nagpur.
Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who has taken 42 wickets in five home Tests, and slow left-armer Pragyan Ojha, 63 from 12 games at home, will be skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni's main weapons.
Waiting in the wings is recalled off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, whose 406 scalps in 98 Tests make him the world's leading wicket-taker among the current crop of players.
Dhoni, under pressure to deliver after India's two successive 4-0 defeats in England and Australia, has openly called on groundsmen across India to prepare turning wickets that will shake up the tourists.
Former England batting great Geoffrey Boycott gave Alastair Cook's squad no chance of emulating David Gower's men, the last English team to win a Test series in India way back in 1985.
"England have not convinced anyone that they can play the turning ball," Boycott told the Cricinfo website recently.
"I don't think they have convinced themselves. Nobody in their right mind can back England."
The tourists go into the first Test with all their top batsmen finding form in the three warm-up matches, albeit against mediocre opposition lacking top-class spin bowlers.
Cook, the recalled Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott, Samit Patel and Jonny Bairstow have all hit centuries, while Nick Compton set himself up for a debut in Ahmedabad with three successive half-centuries.
Sachin Tendulkar's future will be a talking point during the series after the record-breaking batsman admitted last month that the clock was ticking on his 23-year career.
Tendulkar has now gone 25 innings without a Test hundred since making 146 against South Africa in Cape Town in January 2011.
He was bowled in all three innings against New Zealand with a top score of just 27, raising fears that age may finally be catching up with him.