NOTTINGHAM - India are determined England captain Alastair Cook remains on the defensive in the first Test at Nottingham's Trent Bridge starting on Wednesday.
Cook, upon whose leadership officials have staked plenty after ditching former star batsman Kevin Pietersen following the 5-0 Ashes thrashing in Australia, has now gone more than a year since making the last of his England record 25 Test hundreds. And with England recently going down 1-0 to Sri Lanka after a 100-run defeat at Headingley, Cook's tactics have come in for severe criticism with Shane Warne accusing him of being responsible for the "worst day of international captaincy" the Australia great had ever seen during the fourth day in Leeds.
India have made no secret of their intention to target Cook in what will be their first five-Test series in England for 55 years. "Everyone goes through that phase where they don't score runs -- but because he has the captaincy as well, that might be troubling him a little more," India batsman Virat Kohli told reporters at Trent Bridge on Monday. "We would like to keep him under pressure," added the talented 25-year-old, on his first Test tour of England and in whom so many India hopes have been invested following the retirement of all-time great Sachin Tendulkar.
But one consolation for England is India's atrocious away record. India haven't won an overseas Test since defeating the West Indies in June 2011, a run now stretching to 10 losses in 14 matches including successive 4-0 whitewashes in England, in 2011, and Australia.
If Cook needed a sympathetic ear he could do worse than turn to India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, whose captaincy during this year's series loss in New Zealand was labelled "obnoxious" by former skipper Sourav Ganguly. India's problems abroad are exemplified by Dhoni's form, with the dynamic wicketkeeper /batsman scoring just 1,174 runs at an average of 32.61 and no hundreds in 23 away Tests as captain.
With the upcoming series being condensed into six weeks, seamers on both sides face a gruelling schedule. England's pacemen, even though they struggled to take 20 Sri Lankan wickets, should have the edge in home conditions. New-ball duo James Anderson and Stuart Broad looked jaded at Headingley. But Anderson loves bowling at Trent Bridge -- he has taken 49 wickets at an average of just over 17 in seven Tests there -- while Broad claimed a hat-trick on his Nottinghamshire home ground when England won the corresponding 2011 Test against India by 319 runs.
For India's seamers, with the exception of Ishant Sharma who struggled in the two warm-up matches against Leicestershire and Derbyshire, this is a first tour of England. Much will depend upon the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Pankaj Singh and possibly all-rounder Stuart Binny if Dhoni's men are to take the wickets they need to become only the fourth India side to win a Test series on English soil, after their 1971, 1986 and 2007 predecessors. Both teams will want the batsmen to give their bowlers sufficient respite between innings, although Broad was up for the challenge of performing on what are likely to be pretty flat pitches.
"A lot depends on how we bowl. If India are getting four or five hundred every innings...but if we're bowling really well, that obviously makes a huge difference on the workload," Broad said. India have former England coach Duncan Fletcher in their corner now and will also be able to call upon retired batting star Rahul Dravid, a winning skipper in 2007 and a hero in defeat under Dhoni four years later. "A guy who played brilliantly in that (2011) series is mentoring us right now, speaking about his experiences -- Rahul Dravid," explained Kohli.