Test form no comfort as England face series

I EXPECT the England camp has mixed feelings going into this long-awaited series in India, because while the tour has gone reasonably well so far, their recent Test record does not offer much cause for optimism.

On the positive side, England's players will have enjoyed the rest that preceded this trip, while the tour itself is a nice one - it's not too long, they get a break from the cold weather and they are back in time for Christmas.

They can be fairly satisfied with the touch they have shown since arriving in India, where the batsmen have all got in the runs and most of the bowlers have had sufficient practice.

But it cannot be ignored that this year Andy Flower's side have lost to Pakistan and South Africa, drawn with Sri Lanka and beaten a West Indies of only moderate quality. In terms of Test match form, they can't be feeling on top of the world.

It's vital, then, that England get off to a good start and that the bowlers make early inroads into a talented Indian batting line-up. And that means James Anderson and Graeme Swann coming to the party.

Historically India's batsmen are amazingly strong on their own pitches. They have some excellent one-day hitters coming into the Test fold, while the likes of MS Dhoni lower down the order speaks volumes for their strength.

England will hope that perhaps the hosts come into the series with a fraction too much confidence, play some careless shots and allow Swann and Co to get on top.

SCEPTICISM
Alastair Cook will know they must dominate matches, whether batting or bowling first. Whoever wins the toss will surely bat, so if England get in they need to be getting firstinnings totals of 350 and 400.

They needn't lose any sleep, however, over Indian claims that Ravinchandran Ashwin is planning to unleash a mystery spin ball with which to baffle England's batsmen.

This type of talk rears its head every so often, but until Ashwin takes a five-fer in the first Test they'll treat it with suitable scepticism.

Finally, I think the great Rahul Dravid may be talking with India's best intentions at heart when he claims England should pick Monty Panesar as second spinner ahead of Samit Patel.

In any sport you need people in form, and Patel will never approach another Test match with more momentum than this one. It's an absolute no-brainer for selectors; if Patel doesn't play this match then he never will.

Andy Lloyd is a former England Test batsman. He has also acted as captain and chairman of Warwickshire.

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