February 28 2020
Lord's Test: Most anticipated India-England match
20 July 2011

Ninety-nine Tests over 28 series. Seventy-one ODIs. Two Twenty20 internationals. Not one of these matches played between England and India has been for the top prize in cricket. It is slightly strange that in what is essentially a nine-team sport these two teams have never been close to the top at the same time. It isn't all that incredible either, because from the eighties to the later half of the noughties, either Australia or West Indies have been a fixture at the top. Of late India v South Africa has been the premier contest, their last two series riveting. Come Thursday, though, and England v India will not be the same.

This is easily the most anticipated match between these teams. Only the 1987 World Cup semi-final comes close, but even then it was one of the final two hurdles in the way of an India-Pakistan final, never the main event by itself. The Chennai Test of 2008-09 was looked forward to, too, but that had more to do with international cricket's return to India after the Mumbai attacks of 26/11. Right now, it's all about the cricket, and about these two teams, two of the three best today.

Everything around it has set up the atmosphere beautifully. The venue is Lord's. This is the 2000th Test, and the 100th between the two teams. The No. 1 ranking is at stake in the series. As this game often does, this series presents individual excitement too.

Sachin Tendulkar could score his 100th international hundred, better still at Lord's, where he has never scored one. Duncan Fletcher, coaching a team for the 100th time in Tests, is plotting against a side whose resurgence he played no insignificant part in. The man he kept out of his English team, Graeme Swann, is now their lead spinner and the best spinner in the world according to the ICC rankings. MS Dhoni comes with an unbeaten record in Test series. This could be the last time that Lord's gets to watch Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Tendulkar.

Not that this contest, between teams representing the country of the game's birth and the most aggressive consumers thereof, needs any extra individual bite. Not least because India have been a tease of a champion side. There is something beatable about them - the slow starts, the agedness, the regular non-availability of key players - but then again they have stopped recognising defeat when they see it. Some of their memorable away wins have come on seamer-friendly green tracks, involved big second-innings efforts and comebacks in series.

They are up against a side who won the Ashes emphatically, who have been fit, who have no major selection headaches, who have all their best players available, who are playing at home. South Africa were in a similar state late last year, and they welcomed an under-prepared Indian side with an innings defeat. India have had a loosener in the warm-up game against Somerset, but that has never been a guarantee against a rusty show in the first Test. England will want a similar start at Lord's.



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