Confident England still face questions after warm-up victory
England 521 & 118-0 Haryana 333 (England lead by 305 runs)
Without much sound reason, there is an air of belief in this England squad.
The conviction that they can prevail in India for the first time in 27 years comes after a year of declining form and regular defeat. They lost heavily to South Africa in the summer at home having been brutally exposed by Pakistan and briefly embarrassed by Sri Lanka against slow bowling, which was not always turning. They will end 2012 as they started it, having to repel spin, or else.
The fortnight they have spent in India has not quite gone according to plan. England have avoided defeat in all three of their first-class matches leading to the First Test which starts in Ahmedabad on Thursday. Or they will have done unless there is an unprecedented sequence of events in the third of those matches today. England finished on 118-0 in their second innings against Haryana today, a lead of 305.
There were unbeaten half-centuries from Nick Compton, for whom a historic and poignant Test debut awaits on Thursday, and Jonathan Trott. Both looked in good touch against adequate bowling on a flat pitch but Thursday will provide a different examination altogether.
Haryana made 334 all out, with three wickets each for Tim Bresnan and Stuart Meaker and a painstaking unbeaten 143 for the opponents' opener, Rahul Diwan, who carried his bat. This is all reasonable for the tourists. Injuries to key bowlers including Stuart Broad and Steve Finn, both of whom remain doubtful for the Test, have failed to disrupt confidence. But that may be show. The likelihood is that both would be in their first-choice XI.
Graeme Swann, the off-spinner, on whom a huge part of their strategy depends, has gone home to be with his wife and ill baby daughter. He is expected, but not certain, to return. Still they remain chipper.
Some of this may be based on India's lack of strength. Their batting is in transition and their bowling hardly intimidating. But they are at home, where one series defeat in 21 over 12 years tells its own story.
England must make big totals, preferably by batting first and leaving India to bat on wearing pitches. Having to bat second will only harm England unless there is unfeasible early movement for their seam attack. Looked at one way, the preferred team does not inspire confidence, as it would have a year ago when England topped the world.
Here's why. Alastair Cook: Opening batsman and captain in his first Test series, with all the onerous responsibility that entails. Any man would be affected.
Nick Compton: County craftsman and grandson of Denis who has forced his way into the reckoning by sheer weight of runs. But he is a risk, like all new caps, no-one can be sure if he can cope with the big time.
Jonathan Trott: The run machine has dried up lately, and though his career average is 50, that has fallen to 37 this year with one hundred in 21 innings.
Kevin Pietersen: Returning anti-hero, dropped for England's last Test after scoring a hundred because of a dispute with management. May or may not be resolved as so-called process of reintegration continues.
Ian Bell: Not only has form dipped this year (500 runs in 19 innings) after scintillating 18 months, but he has one eye on fatherhood. He will miss the Second Test to be with his wife as she gives birth to the couple's first child.
Samit Patel: He is being given the chance to bat at No 6 because of undoubted talent and the fact that he gives a spinning option. But not so long ago he was persona non grata because he was considered too fat.
As for the bowlers, their stock has fallen slightly too. When England were losing last winter they still picked up 20 wickets in four matches out of five despite four defeats and only one win.
But their gallop was halted abruptly against South Africa when they managed to take only two wickets in the match at The Oval while 637 runs accrued. It got better again without being as good it had been. The feeling grows that if England are to have a chance it will depend on a rhyming combination: dealing with spin and the onward march of Finn.
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