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Exciting times for England and India: Strauss

Former England captain predicts tight series between two teams seeking redemption

As the IPL hangover dies down, the focal point for Indian Cricket now shifts to England, where Team India will face their biggest challenge of the season. In what will go down as a historic occasion, for the first time since 1959, India will play a five-match Test series in England.

The importance of this series grows multifold given both teams would look at it as a chance of redemption after a recent poor run in Test cricket. While England are smarting from their Ashes debacle and the subsequent upheaval in their personnel, including a new coach, India’s most recent Test record reflects twin 0-1 defeats, in South Africa and New Zealand.

MS Dhoni’s Team will also look for salvation after losing their last two Test series against England, home and away. Andrew Strauss, the man who led England to a 4-0 whitewash of India in 2011 at home, feels it will be a closely fought series.

“I’m really excited about it,” Strauss told bcci.tv. “It’s kind of a brave, new world for English cricket after the Ashes went horribly wrong, and now, we have some new players and a new coach. It’s the same for India because their recent record away from home has been really poor. The last time they toured England they lost 0-4 and will be keen to set that right.

“I believe we’re in for a really good closely fought series, and it might be one of those series where it comes down to one or two small sessions that determine the outcome,” Strauss said.

While England have their demons to conquer, the challenge will be significantly bigger for a young Team India in the difficult English conditions, feels Strauss.

“England has probably the hardest conditions for Indian players with the seaming and swinging wickets. It will be a challenge for India because the last time they were there, they had the likes of Tendulkar and Dravid and it still wasn’t enough.

“However, I quite like the look of some of the young Indian players – Virat Kohli has been outstanding and I think the bowling attack looks pretty solid,” Strauss said.

The inexperience of Team India can be gauged from the fact that only three members of the squad – MS Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma – have played a Test match in England. And Gambhir hasn’t played a Test since December 2012.

While Strauss thinks experience will tilt things in the left-hander’s favour, it will be a tough choice for the team management to decide on the opening combination among Gambhir, Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan.

“Gambhir is a very talented batsman and his Test record is up there with some of the best,” Strauss said of the fellow left-handed opener. “The challenge with some of these Indian batsmen is to make a transition from T20 cricket to the longer form. Gambhir seemed to be able to do that in the past and that augurs well for him and the team. I’m sure a lot of people in India are pleased to see him back in the side.

“However, Murali Vijay looks like he can handle the new ball pretty well. It does boil down to the balance of the side and also whether Gambhir has earned the right to come straight back into the XI after having been out for a long time. I think a lot will depend on how the warm-up games go.

“His experience could go his way but it’s a very exciting time for him as he needs to re-prove himself as a Test cricketer and that’s a good motivation. If he gets some runs against the counties at the start of the tour, it’s going to be very difficult for the team management not to pick him.”

Shirin Sadikot

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T20's best through Laxman's eyes

VVS' take on Dhoni's brain, Maxwell's brawn and AB's brilliance

When he used to bat, one would feel the need to romanticise the game of cricket. Often one doubted if the willow could actually work the kind of wonders that VVS Laxman performed. Seldom would you associate art with batting, but Laxman made you do that and believe there was an artist at work on the 22-yards canvas.

Now, the times have changed, the game has evolved, entertainment has crept into the gentleman’s game and fast-paced cricket is the order of the day. Ask VVS Laxman if this is a welcome change, and the purist in him would choose to look at the competitive nature of T20s with a gentle smile. He confessed his love for ‘timing’ over ‘brute force’ and said that he still considered Tests to be the litmus test for a cricketer.

Despite his reverence for the five-day format, the ‘Very Very Special’ batsman appreciates the skill sets of batsmen in the shortest format of the game as well.

From beyond the boundary ropes, under the mentor’s hat, sits a master batsman, who sat down for a chat with IPLT20.com to analyse arguably the three most dangerous batsmen in T20 cricket – Glenn Maxwell, AB de Villiers and MS Dhoni.

Here are excerpts from a very very special interview:

The Big Show: Glenn Maxwell.

Laxman’s take – “Most fearless batsman this IPL”

What has been the key aspect of Glenn Maxwell’s batting this year?

Fearlessness. That is one thing that we saw very briefly in the ICC T20 World Cup this year. He was playing fearlessly, attacking from ball-one without the fear of losing his wicket, which has worked well for him and for Kings XI Punjab. The only difference between the T20 WC and the IPL is that he is converting starts into big scores. He is talented and skillful and can play a lot of innovative shots. What differentiates him from the other batsmen in this tournament is the fearlessness, which has helped him succeed.

Does he signify fearlessness in a format where it is needed the most?

Without a doubt! For someone to come and hit the first ball for a six, shows his mindset and shows the kind of confidence level he has at the moment. He is playing to his strengths. He does not have one or two shots that he relies on. He can play an array of shots and play a couple of shots for each and every delivery. If the same ball is pitched on the off-stump, he can hit it through midwicket and at the same time reverse-sweep it over point. That skill and the ability he possesses to destroy bowling attacks, make him a very dangerous batsman.

He has hit a purple patch this season. If you were Maxwell’s coach, would you talk to him constantly or just let him be?

I would just let him play the way he has played and I would just ask him to assess the situation better and win matches for his side. He has done it and there has been a vast improvement on that aspect from the T20 World Cup. He is learning from every game and he realises the importance of David Miller, Virender Sehwag and himself in that Kings XI squad. I have always felt that it doesn’t matter how quickly you get the runs as long as that innings has an impact on the result of the game.

How would you describe Maxwell in one word?

(Smiles) Destructive.

Absolute AB.

Laxman’s take – “Most complete batsman in the modern era”

Is he the most complete batsman in the modern era?

Yes, he is without a doubt; and I feel Maxwell is getting there. Like Maxwell, AB can play shots all around the wicket. He has got three or four shots for one delivery. There is nothing that he cannot do when he is batting. He is quick on his feet and in his thought process. To execute some of the shots he has played, one has to have a quick mind, which he has done effectively not only to mediocre bowlers but also to the best in the business. He is quick on his feet, always thinking, and an exceptional runner between the wickets, which makes him a complete cricketer.

Does he have the perfect blend of orthodox cricket and T20 cricket?

Yes, you are right. That is why he is complete. Because of his good basic technique, even on tough conditions, he can adapt quickly. To unsettle the opposition, he can play some freak shots and get his innovation into the picture and change the game singlehandedly. He has the potential to play aggressively and be defensive at the same time.

The most astute cricketing brain when it comes to batting?

I do not know him personally, but the way he bats, you can make out that he responds to a particular situation in a certain way. AB exactly plays the way he should in a particular situation.

MS Dhoni: The Monk.

Laxman’s take – “The perfect combination of brain and brawn”

One thing that every cricketer would want to have that MS Dhoni has?

Temperament. The reason MS Dhoni has been so successful, is his temperament and situational awareness, which is so important for a cricketer. He understands exactly what is to be done as a captain and as a batsman in a particular situation, and he delivers more often than not. You may have the best technique and skill, but you need to know when to do what, which Dhoni does brilliantly. His game is totally different when he comes to bat early and when he bats down the order during pressure-cooker situations, which all boils down to situational awareness.

Has he put more thought into his batting over the years?

Yes, he has, and a lot of it. The Dhoni during his debut was one-dimensional and the opposition bowlers could make him play according to their plans. But it is amazing how he has progressed as a batsman. He understands his own game and has the hunger to keep improving. I would say that MS Dhoni is an all-round player now.

This calmness that he is known for, is it his nature or does he make a conscious effort to be that way?

Calmness cannot happen overnight and it is a conscious decision by him to be calm. Especially when you are leading the side, you don’t want your captain to be restless or panic. Right from the first day I saw him, MS Dhoni has always remained the same. He has always taken cricket as a sport, which I think is his biggest strength. He doesn’t get emotionally attached to the result. He will be disappointed if the team losses, but he is not someone who will brood over the loss. He is always looking to start afresh. He is a very balanced cricketer and there are very few I have seen in my career who are as balanced as MS Dhoni.

Is he the perfect example of a cricketer who uses his brain and brawn to good effect?

He does no doubt. He is one player who has succeeded because of his brain. It is only because of what is between his two ears that he has succeeded. It is the main reason why he has become one of the legends of the game.

Anand Subramaniam

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