New Delhi: Indian cricketers left Tuesday for an arduous tour of England with thin bowling resources and hoping to avoid yet another overseas humiliation.
The tourists will play four Tests against England after a triangular One-day series, also involving Sri Lanka, on their 83-day tour. India's away record is so disappointing that even die-hard fans have begun to question their team's competence to succeed in foreign conditions. They have yet to win an away Test series under Saurav Ganguly's captaincy in two years, having settled for a 1-1 draw in Zimbabwe and losing in Sri Lanka, South Africa and the West Indies. India's last series win outside the sub-continent came in 1986 when it beat England 2-0 under Kapil Dev's captaincy.
India's problems are exacerbated by having to take to England unsettled openers and inexperienced wicket-keepers and seamers. Pace spearhead Javagal Srinath's unexpected retirement after the West Indies tour means the new ball will be shared by left-arm seamers Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, who have a combined experience of just 24 Tests. Srinath served his team commendably well for nearly a decade, having grabbed 232 wickets in 64 Tests. Opening the innings remains a problem without a solution. India tried three different pairs in the West Indies, but failed to find the right combination. Shiv Sunder Das was out of form as he contributed just 124 in eight Test innings without a half-century, while Sanjay Bangar made nine and 16 in his only match. Wasim Jaffer scored two half-centuries in three Tests, but is yet to establish himself.
India has included two promising, but inexperienced, wicket-keepers in Ajay Ratra, 20, and newcomer Parthiv Patel, 17 for the Test series. India could also rely on Dravid, who kept wicket in the One-day series in the West Indies. India will look to its famed middle order, comprising Sachin Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid and Venkatsai Laxman, to spare the blushes in Tests. It will have to overcome a mental barrier in order to win the triangular series, for Sri Lanka is no pushover. Moreover, India has earned the dubious reputation of choking under big-match pressure after losing nine finals of the One-day tournaments involving three or more teams since April 1999.
Indian squads: One-dayers: Saurav Ganguly (captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Venkatsai Laxman, Dinesh Mongia, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Ajay Ratra, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar, Ashish Nehra and Tinu Yohannan.
Tests: Sourav Ganguly (captain), Rahul Dravid, Shiv Sunder Das, Wasim Jaffer, Sachin Tendulkar, Venkatsai Laxman, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Ajit Agarkar, Tinu Yohannan, Ajay Ratra, Sanjay Bangar and Parthiv Patel. Coach: John Wright.