This Test series will be the litmus test for Team India that left for the United Kingdom sown with self-doubts and still emerged with a degree of respectability after the wins in Ireland. The scenario could have been slightly different had Stephen Harmison and Andrew Flintoff been fit for the Test. With the duo missing out on account of injury, the sides look equal, at least on paper.
With the second half of the summer promising a run feast only Harmison and Flintoff could have troubled the Indian top-order with their disconcerting bounce. If the newfound successful pair of Dinesh Karthik-Wasim Jaffer see off the new ball there should not be too many demands on the seasoned middle order.
The bigger question is about the capability of the Indian attack to take 20 wickets. Zaheer Khan looks to have regained his touch and if there is something in the conditions Sreesanth should also come into play. The third seamer slot looks a bit open but R.P. Singh with his high arm action and straight wrist could well win the race. He has developed the one that comes into the right-hander and looks the best bet to go on to play on hallowed turf.
Anil Kumble will have to bear a bigger burden this time around. Unless the think tank decides to go in with five specialist batsmen, he would be the only spinner and for him to wheel his arm over relentlessly would not be easy on a shoulder that is not getting any younger. A confident start by the bowlers would be handy and there is no reason for them to think they can't get 20 wickets as some pundits have been suggesting.
Not many gave us a chance when we toured England in 1986. It was the persistent line by our seamers that paved the way to fantastic results. It is a question of getting the basics right. All that I have said might look like the most mundane statement by an ex-cricketer. But, believe me, nowhere else in the world is a player rewarded as in England for sticking to the basics.
The reason for India drawing the series in 2002 was the might of the batting. The effort of Sanjay Bangar and Rahul Dravid on the first morning in Leeds was worth its weight in gold and the team started believing they could punch well above their weight. With Sachin Tendulkar among the runs and Dravid always dependable, the task ahead of England bowlers does not look too rosy either. Sachin has not got going in Lord's and that should be motivation enough for him when he goes out to bat, probably for the last time in a Test match there.
Going by tour reports, Yuvraj should be sitting this Test out. My heart goes out to the youngster who is in good form. Personally I would have gone in with Yuvraj ahead of Sourav Ganguly but given the latter's ability with the ball and his record and experience in England, things might have gone in his favour.
It looks as if we have some exciting cricket in front of us and the side that starts better would have the definite advantage. Given the way England batted against West Indies in the recent Test series, they might have their nose in front, but only just.
My XI: Dinesh Karthik, Wasim Jaffer, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, V.V.S. Laxman, M.S. Dhoni, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, S. Sreesanth and R.P. Singh