Cricket Expert & Columnist
Nasser Hussain blogs on how India are measuring up ahead of England Test series
India's batsmen still form a formidable unit in Test cricket on their own patch, says Nasser Hussain.
Last Updated: 13/11/12 5:01pm
Any side would feel the loss of batsmen of the quality and experience of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman and yet India is renowned for producing a conveyor belt of young players who can bat.
As England found out in their warm-up games, the vast majority have seriously good techniques and they live and breathe cricket. So what cracks - if any - can England exploit in this India side?
There's no doubt that openers Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag have lost some form and are under pressure as a result. There is a lot of talk in India about their respective places in the side and that public pressure can build quickly.
Yet Gambhir averaged over 90 against England in 2008 and like many Indian batsmen tends to be a better player at home, while Sehwag could go out and smash a hundred on the first day in Ahmedabad. Everything would then be forgiven and forgotten very quickly.
Similarly, I'm not writing Sachin Tendulkar off just yet either even if he has failed to pass 30 in his last seven Test innings. His recent hundred for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy shows he's not going into this series undercooked and while he might not be the player he once was - the best there's ever been - he remains a serious threat.
His duel with James Anderson should be enthralling. Anderson will try to tee him up with a couple of out-swingers and then bring one back in, but trying to move the ball around in India on a pitch that lacks nip when batsmen have more time to adjust is a very different prospect from swinging a brand new Duke ball around in England.
Virat Kohli is the one who really excites me; he's only played 10 Tests but it's clear that he ticks all the boxes. He's a very elegant player, he's technically good and his temperament is excellent.
He was the one who stood up and got runs when India went to Australia at the turn of the year and got beaten 4-0. That's the sign of a very talented, gutsy player. He's got a bit of a swagger about him, much as Kevin Pietersen has, and he clearly believes in himself.
People are already lining him up as 'the next Tendulkar', which is unfair on both players, but he might just be the man to galvanise Sachin in the same way that Hashim Amla's run-scoring feats seem to have brought about a resurgence in Jacques Kallis' career.
If Virat starts taking more of the limelight, don't bet against Sachin trying to keep up with him!
That's why it's vital that England take new-ball wickets and try to get stuck into the middle-order as quickly as possible. Like any batsman, the inexperienced Cheteshwar Pujara - as good a player as he seems to be - will find things very different coming in at 10-1 rather than 80-1.
I've not seen a lot of Pujara, but I'd be very surprised if he is an ugly player with a poor technique who doesn't want to score massive runs for India - and his century against New Zealand won't have gone unnoticed by England.
I'm fully expecting Mahendra Singh Dhoni to go in at seven, which creates room for Yuvraj Singh to slot in at six. Not only does that give India a third spin option, but it sets up the tantalising prospect of Pietersen squaring up to a left-armer he once called a pie-chucker...
Zaheer Khan - fitness permitting - and Umesh Yadav would appear to have the seam spots sewn up. Ishant Sharma bowled pretty well against England in England and his extra bounce has the potential to unsettle batsmen, but Zaheer's left-arm action always seems to trouble England and although he is an ageing bowler he remains a skilful operator.
Duncan Fletcher has tried hard to get more runs out of the lower order and for that reason I can see Harbhajan Singh getting the nod at nine ahead of Pragyan Ojha, with Ravichandran Ashwin going in at eight.
I know Fletch likes Harbhajan's feistiness and competitiveness but Ojha is the man in possession; he's got a beautiful action and is a good left-arm spinner in the mould of Abdur Rehman of Pakistan, who I think is a fantastic bowler. That's India's biggest selection dilemma in my view.
For all of the talk of 'mystery balls' this week, it remains just that - talk - until you find yourself in at 100-4 with the ball spinning both ways, men around the bat and your side crumbling as you struggle to pick the bowler.
From Thursday you'll hear us stress on commentary how important it is to rotate the strike. Getting a single may not seem significant, but when you first go in on the sub-continent you can spend the first 15 minutes thinking 'how the hell am I going to get a run here?'
Once you bat for an hour and you're picking it, you'll think 'what was I so stressed about?'
If the ball is spinning one way it's a lot easier because you can go down the pitch. You'll hear a lot of people saying 'use your feet, go down the pitch' but if you're not sure which way it is spinning you'd better make sure that you get to it because Dhoni is waiting to whip off the bails.
I'm sure we'll see more than one player get the sweep shot out rather than run down the pitch in the coming weeks as he becomes increasingly uncertain which way the ball's turning.
It's not, as some say, that England don't play mystery spin well; rather, it's true to say that they haven't played high-quality spin well. Rehman didn't have any mystery about him - he just knew exactly what he was doing; he was an old-fashioned left-arm spinner with a beautiful arm ball.
The pitches in Abu Dhabi and Dubai were very, very tired and cracked but the pitches in India are unlikely to be absolute minefields for the first three days unless India gamble and produce dust bowls.
I personally wouldn't do that if I was India because it brings Graeme Swann, Samit Patel and Monty Panesar firmly into the equation. India would be better off preparing really good, flat pitches that turn on day four and five.
I honestly believe that England shouldn't find batting a problem in the first innings. It's what happens after that which counts.
In India you can go through three very turgid days where the teams are about level and everybody's saying 'what boring cricket'; but when the ball starts spinning everything changes very, very quickly.
At times it is going to be hard viewing - particularly with England's line-up. Alastair Cook, Nick Compton and Jonathan Trott are not going to blast it; they are going to try and bat long and grind out the opposition.
But if England are behind on second innings they will have to be very careful because those men close in around the bat will be waiting to grab any half chance...
England's Test series in India begins on Thursday November 15 at 3.30am on Sky Sports 1 HD.