Gambhir-Sehwag's form a huge worry for Team India
India were beaten black and blue during their trip to England for a four-match Test series last summer. But the Indians have a great chance to avenge that defeat by making most of the home conditions when they face the team from the old blighty in a four-match Test series next week, feels Haresh Pandya.
The scars of India's pathetic performance in England and Australia in 2011-12 have been so deep that they have not yet been healed despite the team's subsequent success in the two Tests against New Zealand.
As Mahendra Singh Dhoni and company get ready to take on the full-fledged England team in the four-Test series, the spectre of those unprecedented eight successive Test defeats is beginning to haunt them.
Even though the humiliation in England and Australia is a thing of the past now, there are reasons why the mood is despondent in the Indian camp. Any team who loses services of a player like Rahul Dravid must feel the pangs. India has not lost just Dravid but VVS Laxman as well.
Worse still, its three experienced frontline batsmen are woefully out of form. And two of them, Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar, are not getting longer in the tooth either.
The trio -- Gautam Gambhir, Sehwag and Tendulkar -- failed to put up a decent performance even against the lowly Kiwis. In one innings in Hyderabad and two in Bangalore, Gambhir made 22, 2 and 34, Sehwag 47, 43 and 38, and Tendulkar 19, 17 and 27. More than his poor scores, it was the manner in which Tendulkar lost his wicket on all the three occasions that was unbelievable.
Gambhir and Sehwag are openers and their continuous failure in giving the team a fairly good start has had a negative bearing on the entire batting line-up -- with and without Dravid and Laxman. It is high time the openers regained their original touch, hunger for runs and started firing on all cylinders.
Image: Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag
Zaheer's fitness again under the radar
"If Sehwag and Gambhir continue to fail against England, too, the selectors should start looking for their replacements," former India wicketkeeper and chairman of selectors Kiran More said.
To add to India's woes, its top pace bowler, Zaheer Khan, also appears to be over the hill. How he would fare on India's either feather-beds or turning tracks against the in-form England batsmen is a question.
Zaheer's bowling partners -- and there have been so many in recent years -- have not done anything extraordinary, individually as well as collectively, to give much of a hope.
Both the injury and the 'form' list are too big to mention here. The tragedy is that even a 70 per cent fit Indian medium-pacer manages to get into the squad and sometimes into the final XI also. India has had to pay the price for including unfit bowlers in the team and occasionally playing them in the actual XI at the cost of a fitter and in-form fast bowler or spinner.
But the picture is not as bleak as it appears from the outside. Nor is Team India as weak as it has been made out to be. It is a cricketing truism, and a right one, that form is temporary and the class always tells.
Image: Zaheer Khan
England have begun planning dismissals of Kohli, Pujara
Nobody needs to be told, certainly not the England team, including its many supporting arms, how talented Gambhir, Sehwag, Tendulkar and Zaheer, among others, are; or what they are capable of.
Big performances befitting their reputations are long overdue from them. And it may spell disaster for the Englishmen if the out-of-form Indians return to form in this rubber. Already the English team's think tank has started planning dismissals of the young and in-form Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara; as well as how to play off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, both when bowling alone and in tandem.
And Kohli, Pujara, Ashwin and Ojha are expected to play a major role for India in this series. Unlike his senior batsmen, Dhoni has never been truly out of form. The highly reliable Dhoni is almost always there when the chips are down and comes up with useful innings down the order.
After Kohli and Pujara, it was Dhoni (with innings of 73, 62 and 48 not out) who was the most successful Indian batsman against New Zealand.
Image: Cheteshwar Pujara
England won't have it easy in Indian conditions
England has ostensibly a formidable batting line-up and also one of the world's finest attacks studded with quality speedsters and a world-class spinner. But playing in India, on India's spin-friendly pitches and in front of the Indian spectators is a different proposition altogether.
Howsoever good, even strong, this English team has often given the impression of tending to buckle under pressure.
And there will be plenty of pressure for the Englishmen in the series to cope with the Indian spinners. Already the newly appointed chairman of selectors Sandeep Patil and Dhoni have hinted at what is in store for the visitors from the Old Country -- spinning wickets or dusty bowls.
While Indian batsmen can certainly take care of Graeme Swann and other English spinners, it will not be easy for Kevin Pietersen and others to handle a sustained attack from Ashwin and Ojha, who will be joined by part-time spinners.
Image: England's captain Alastair Cook (right) and team coach Andy Flower
Photographs: Danish Siddiqui / Reuters
Swann's effectiveness on Indian tracks will be interesting to see
Keeping these facts in mind, Zaheer's form and fitness should hardly matter for the Indian team management. Nor the question of which other pace bowlers should accompany the southpaw.
Spin is going to be the king in the series and doubtless India has an array of quality spinners.
Granted Swann is a champion offie, probably the world's best at the moment, but, as they say, one swallow does not make a summer.
How effective Swann proves against the highly experienced and quick-footed Indian batsmen will be interesting to see. And if India really dishes out turning tracks to the visitors, one wonders whether fast bowlers James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Tim Brensan, for all their brilliance and experience, will make much of an impact on the Indian batsmen.
Image: Graeme Swann
'Ashwin and Ojha will be quite handy against the English batsmen'
All these factors point to one thing: Team India has a good chance to avenge its 4-0 defeat in England last year. And it should not be a difficult task if Dhoni and company make the most of the home advantage and their vast experience.
"India should win the series without much difficulty. England may have a good team, but better teams have found it difficult to play, let alone beat, India in India," former India opener Aakash Chopra said.
"We're playing at home and we've some the world's best batsmen and spinners. And this is going to be a key factor. I'm sure it won't be hard for some of our out-of-form batsmen to get back into form."
"We should play on turning tracks. I think Ashwin and Ojha will be quite handy against the English batsmen on Indian pitches. The idea is to post a big total and then bring the England batsmen under pressure."
Image: Pragyan Ojha