Former captain Rahul Dravid termed the upcoming five-match Test series in England as a challenging one but was confident India can compete well against the hosts if the bowlers step up and deliver on the seam-friendly conditions.
“It is going to be a challenging series, there is no doubt about it. If India can find a couple of bowlers who can step up during the series, then I think they are in for a great series,” said the former cricketer at a promotional event organised by Gillette in Mumbai on Tuesday.
India are to play a five-Test series for the first time since 1959 and Dravid feels the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led side showed plenty of signs of possessing quality players on their two previous overseas tours recently – to South Africa late last year and New Zealand early this year.
“I think five Test matches is never easy but I believe India has got a pretty good side. From what I have seen in the last two series in South Africa and New Zealand, they came close to winning a Test match in both the series. Whether it was in Johannesburg or whether it was in New Zealand, they had their chances but they just couldn’t grab them,” he remarked.
“I think this might be a good time and a good series for them to make that jump and actually win one or two Test matches abroad. If they do that then they will get a lot of confidence because they are quite a young side, a developing side. The challenge again I believe for India is that ability to get 20 wickets.
“You must find a way to get 20 wickets. You saw that with Sri Lanka in the last game as well, they just didn’t seem to be able to get 20 wickets against England. That becomes a big challenge for sub-continent teams when we travel abroad,” Dravid pointed out.
The tour commences on June 26 with a three-day game in Leicester. The visitors are to play one more three-day warm-up game against Derbyshire (July 1-3) before the five-match Test series starts on July 9 at Trent Bridge.
The other Tests are to be played at Lord’s (July 17-21), Ageas Bowl in Southampton (July 27-31), Old Trafford (August 7-11) and The Oval (August 15-19).
Though the Indian squad named for the Tests is packed with medium pacers, Dravid felt that the two spinners – Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin – could come into the picture late in the Tests if the weather in England is hot.
“I believe if the summer is hot and if the Test goes on till fourth and fifth day, it does start turning in England and people like Ashwin and Jadeja can come to the fore as well,” he said.
“Ashwin and Jadeja are both quite young so the more they play, the better they get. It will be interesting to see if India can play both of them in the same side. If India can play both of them and the conditions allow that, that will be fantastic.
“I remember winning in Headingly (in 2002) with both Anil (Kumble) and Harbhajan (Singh) playing in the same Test (and sharing 11 wickets). It will be great if India can play both of them but that solely depends on the conditions,” he said.
“If the summer is dry and it does start turning towards the third or fourth day of a Test match, spinners do come into play in England,” he said.
Dravid advised the medium pacers to stick to a fuller length on English pitches.
“There are good conditions sometimes to bowl on in England but you have got to bowl well. Your lengths have got to be right because if you bowl the wrong length in England, you can get punished very badly.
“The outfields are fast and the batsmen are waiting for anything short. You have to look to pitch the ball up and you have to look to swing. If one or two guys can do that, they stand a good chance to have success,” he added.
The Bangalore stalwart said it was time experienced pacer Ishant Sharma takes up the challenge and leads the attack from the front in the absence of veteran Zaheer Khan, who has not been picked for the tour.
“There is a great opportunity for Ishant. He has been around for a long time and has got experience. It really should be his time to step up and say I am going to lead this attack and hopefully they will look after this attack in the next couple of years in the absence of Zaheer, who unfortunately isn’t there,” he said.
Dravid said he was happy with the Indian squad’s pace attack comprising six seamers and all-rounder Stuart Binny.
“They have sort of got it right. It is just a question of who do you feel will be able to bowl well and contribute well in those kind of conditions. They have gone with two spinners. They are slightly more experienced and tried and tested spinners. Both of them should be given those opportunities.
“We have got a young bowling attack but you never know who can step up. In 2007, sure we had Zaheer, (but) (Shantakumaran) Sreesanth and R P Singh bowled beautifully and were well supported by Anil (Kumble),” he said.
Dravid was of the view that young batsmen in the team could learn a lot from the long tour.
“I think Virat (Kohli), Cheteshwar (Pujara), (Ajinkya) Rahane and even (Shikhar) Dhawan in the last two series have shown they can do well abroad. They have all got hundreds abroad. This is a great chance for them to develop and grow as players.
“A five Test match series in England, there will be a lot to learn. It is going to be a tough series but there will also be an opportunity. In England if you get set and bat well, you can score a lot of runs,” said Dravid who amassed 1,376 runs with 6 centuries at a superb average of 68.80 in 13 Tests he played in England between 1996 and 2011.
“There is actually a great opportunity to score runs. The outfields are fast and the wickets are actually quite good. If you can get into a little bit of form earlier on in the tour and make it a big tour, it will be great for most of these guys in their development as cricketers,” he said.
Dravid said as a batsman it was important to gauge the changing weather conditions and play accordingly.
“One of the important things playing in England is to recognise that there are going to be different phases of play when it is going to be quite challenging. If it does start seaming and swinging around, you have got to realise that you have to be circumspect for a little bit of time and then maybe pick up the scoring rate later on.
“So you have got to play to the conditions. The conditions change in England and everyday is different,” he explained.