S don’t come much harder than India and it’s difficult to see England winning the looming four-Test series. The vibes around the squad are not good, having endured plenty of controversy lately, and it’s all rather unsettling. It certainly won’t help them overcome a good side on tricky terrain.
But it wouldn’t be a disaster if England lost the series in close, competitive circumstances if they were to achieve something they haven’t done for quite some time and transform one of the less experienced players into a bona fide Test mainstay.
Of course it’s down to the players themselves to step up and stake a claim, and I’m particularly thinking of people such as Nick Compton, Eoin Morgan, Jonny Bairstow and – crossing my fingers that the injury he suffered yesterday isn’t too serious – Steven Finn.
The top-order batsmen will be under particular scrutiny, after a difficult last series at home to South Africa, in which too often a few wickets fell before England had reached 100. I can’t remember the last century opening partnership and it would be great to see them get to 150-1 and then dominate matches.
With that in mind it’s a huge opportunity for newcomer Compton, who looks certain to open with captain Alastair Cook. He is totally untried at Test level but has the two ingredients that every cricketer needs to be successful: sound technique and confidence. He’ll need that temperament to get through some inevitable tough times on this tour, but he’s got what it takes to break through.
Compton could hardly ask for a better partner than Cook, too. The skipper is a very balanced character, phlegmatic and knows what is required, which can only help the Somerset player. I don’t think it does England any harm to have a right-handed opener alongside left-hander Cook for a change, forcing bowlers to mix it up.
He’s no stranger to the Test scene but I’m also hoping for a strong showing from Graeme Swann. Perhaps it is because batsmen have sussed out his preferred pace and lines, but he has gone off the boil in the last 12 months. England are going to need bowlers to make match-winning performances, and you have to a think a spinner would be best equipped on Indian surfaces.
It all amounts to an arduous first series as captain for Cook, but even if England get off to a bad start I don’t expect people to get on his back too much. We all know how difficult this trip is and England should have enough bowling might to win in New Zealand early next year; if they don’t then he can expect some serious pressure. Most importantly, though, anyone in the game knows he is the right man for the job at this time, particularly the players, who I’m certain will support him.
Andy Lloyd is a former England Test cricketer, and former captain and chairman of Warwickshire.