London: India would be hoping to take advantage of a depleted bowling attack of the Opposition when it takes on an increasingly assertive England in its first match of the triangular One-day series at the Lord's ground on Saturday.
Two of England's frontline bowlers - Andrew Caddick and Darren Gough - are unavailable due to injuries and the inexperience in the bowling line-up is all too evident. True, even with the limited options available, England was able to comfortably romp home against Sri Lanka in the opening day-night match on Thursday, the 44-run victory providing a major boost to the home team, which had suffered losses to county sides in practice games.
But England had the cushion of a huge total which the batsmen had put up and the bowlers were never really stretched. It is because of this that the performance of the main Indian batsmen would be very crucial. Coach John Wright talked about Indians being capable of putting the Opposition under pressure and his team must prove that capability here. England is on a high after its 2-0 victory over Sri Lanka in the Test series and the 44-run triumph on Thursday and the Indians would really have to fire on all cylinders to halt its winning juggernaut. With the Indian bowling line-up also not all that formidable - left-arm seamers Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra have never played against England - it will essentially boil down to a battle of the batsmen.
Most of the Indian batsmen, including skipper Saurav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar, have helped themselves to some runs in the three practice games but their unpredictability remains a problem. Ganguly has fond memories of Lord's where he scored a classic century on his Test debut in 1996. He seems to have carried his fine form here from the West Indies tour as was evident from the two attacking knocks he played against county sides in the practice matches. Tendulkar also had a match-winning knock in one of those games and so had Virender Sehwag, who will continue to open the innings with the skipper.
Tendulkar has already said that he would once again bat in the middle order in this series to lend more stability to the batting line-up. While conditions favour V V S Laxman, the stylish Hyderabad batsman is uncertain of a place in the final 11 as the Indians might be tempted to include the young brigade of Dinesh Mongia, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif in its entirety because of the huge difference they make in the quality of fielding. England showed in the match against Sri Lanka how much difference good fielding performance can make and India must take lessons from that.
The fact that Mongia, Kaif and Yuvraj Singh have also been getting runs heavily tilts the balance in their favour. In the absence of Javagal Srinath, Ajit Agarkar will suddenly find himself spearheading the Indian pace attack as both Nehra and Zaheer Khan are new to this land. Both the left-arm seamers are almost certainties for Saturday's game as the conditions are likely to suit their style of bowling. But that would once again mean that only one among Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh can play. It will be a pity since both are match-winning bowlers and former England captain David Gower believes the combination can pose maximum problems to the English batsmen. Kumble and Harbhajan, in tandem, will be a potent threat, said Gower as he watched the Indians play in the practice game at Leicester on Wednesday.
However, it will be too much to expect the England batsmen to dance to the tunes of the Indians. The English team has been on a winning spree in recent times and the confidence level is sky high. Marcus Trescothick, Nick Knight, Michael Vaughan, skipper Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe have been consistently scoring runs Veteran wicket-keeper Alec Stewart made a resounding comeback to the national squad with a solid 83 against Sri Lanka on Thursday and he would definitely like to continue the good showing in order to retain his place in the side.
Andrew Flintoff is another concern for the Indians. The burly all-rounder had shown his big-hitting capabilities on the tour of India earlier this year and he played a magnificent knock on Thursday. Bowling can be a slight worry for England with only Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard, apart from left-arm spinner Ashley Giles, as the experienced campaigners in their ranks. The toss would be vital because both the sides would like to bat first, put up a big score and put the opposition under pressure.
The teams (from): India: Saurav Ganguly (captain), Virender Sehwag, Dinesh Mongia, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V V S Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Ajay Ratra, Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Tinu Yohannan.
England: Nasser Hussain (captain), Marcus Trescothick, Nick Knight, Alec Stewart, Graham Thorpe, Andrew Flintoff, Ronnie Irani, James Kirtley, Jeremy Snape, Matthew Hoggard, Ashley Giles, Alex Tudor, Michael Vaughan and Paul Collingwood.
Umpires: Steve Bucknor and Neil Mallender.
Match referee: Mike Procter.