London: Bowlers from both sides will be under the spotlight when England face India in the opening Test of a four-match series here at Lord's on Thursday.
India will be without long-time spearhead Javagal Srinath, who announced his retirement from Test cricket ahead of this tour, while injuries have deprived England of front-line quicks Darren Gough, Andrew Caddick and Alex Tudor. England has placed Yorkshire seamer Chris Silverwood on standby in the event of further injuries with much responsiblity now resting on the shoulders of pace- bowling all-rounder Andrew Flintoff. Inexperienced Glamorgan fast bowler Simon Jones, 23, faces the daunting task of making his Test debut against a strong batting side on a Lord's pitch that has been a heartbreaker for quicks all season. India's new ball attack will be also be led by a 23-year-old, but the comparison ends there. It says something for the difference in attitude between the two nations that were Zaheer Khan playing in England he would probably be just making his name in a county first X1. Left-arm quick Zaheer had to wait until he was 17, when he moved from his home in Ahmednagar to Bombay to pursue a career in engineering, to start playing proper cricket. But from there on such was his progress on the cricket field, aided by a spell at Australia great Dennis Lillee's pace bowling foundation in Madras, that in 1999-2000 he made his debut in the Ranji Trophy. And aged 22 Zaheer gained his first Test cap, against Bangladesh. "No way could I have imagined at the age of 17 I would be playing for India just a few years later," said Zaheer who is now the most experienced fast bowler in the tour party with 16 caps. He comes into the Test campaign on the back of some impressive One-day performances. Zaheer's 14 wickets during India's victorious triangular series campaign were the most taken by any bowler in the three sides. "I am happy with what I have done so far on this tour and feel it is a good foundation before the Test series," he said. "I am getting used to the conditions and have confidence from the fact I have done well in the One-dayers." Who plays alongside Zaheer at Lord's is less clear and will depend on whether India opts to include both leg spinner Anil Kumble and off spinner Harbhajan Singh in their starting XI. That leaves the likes of Zaheer's fellow left-armer Ashish Nehra, medium-pacer Ajit Agarkar and all-rounder Sanjay Bangar, who starred with both bat and ball in India's final warm-up match against Hampshire, to compete for the remaining bowling spots. But India coach John Wright seems to have decided on his final line-up. "We've got a fair idea of the team we're playing at Lord's or the final 12 anyway," he told Tuesday's 'Daily Telegraph'. "We're not thinking about England's injuries - we think they'll be tough opponents as we experienced in India," the former New Zealand batsman added.
India won that three-Test series, concluded in December, 1-0. But it has not won a Test campaign outside of the sub-continent since its 1986 series victory in England. However, the home side's injury crisis appears to give Saurav Ganguly's side every chance of getting off to a winning start. As well as being without three key strike bowlers, England will also have to do without injured opening batsman Marcus Trescothick, who broke his thumb fielding in a county match last week. Trescothick has been one of England's most consistent performers in the last 12 months and his absence will see fellow left-hander Mark Butcher returning to the top of the order after a successful spell at number three. Recalled Hampshire batsman John Crawley could fill the hole in the line-up.
But whatever else happens, the match will be a memorable occasion for veteran wicket- keeper Alec Stewart. The 39-year-old Surrey stalwart's 119th Test will make him England's most capped player of all time, Stewart taking sole possession of the record he currently shares with another former Test captain, Graham Gooch. England's bowlers performed heroically in twice dismissing the Sri Lankans in the third Test at Old Trafford where it wrapped up a 2-0 series win earlier this summer.