India have arrived. It is the serious business of the summer. If that estimation shows disrespect to Sri Lanka – and it does – the schedule unfortunately makes it clear.
The first tourists of the season were shoehorned in to play a Twenty20 contest, five one-day internationals and two Test matches in five weeks. The second visitors are still being crammed in but they have been allocated five Test matches in six weeks, a length of series that India have played only twice in the last 28 years and not once for the last 12 years.
It will be a trial of application and mood in conditions that are alien to most of them (not that it stopped Sri Lanka). Only three of their party – M S Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma – have played Test cricket in this country and on their last tour in 2011 they were unceremoniously hammered 4-0.
Their coach and captain now as then are Duncan Fletcher and Dhoni. From the way they spoke in Leicester, where the first of their two practice matches begins on Thursday, they intend to compete much more vigorously this time.
Fletcher said: "We could be unpredictable from the point of view that – without making excuses – it's a very, very inexperienced side. How many Tests have our opening batters played? How many Tests has our No 3 played? How many Test overs have our bowlers bowled?
"But it can be nice sometimes because being unpredictable means they play some exciting cricket. There are some very exciting players in this group that will go on to be very good cricketers for India. They might fire from this series and there will be some very good cricket played."
The presence of Fletcher adds a frisson to the series. While he has been with India for three years, he was with England for seven between 2000 and 2007, when a 5-0 Ashes whitewash cost him the job. There is no more experienced international coach in the world and he has a total of 126 Test matches behind him, the first 96 with England. He is quietly but enormously proud of this.
India have not performed especially well in Tests during his tenure and have not won any of their last four away series. There is a feeling that Test cricket is not India's priority, which a long series will test to the full. Fletcher said: "Any Test, you go out to win the series. Reversing trends is not that important. What is important is that you go out trying to win the series."
Ticket sales are already healthy, with sell-outs on several days at both Trent Bridge, where the first Investec Test starts on 9 July and at Lord's, which begins only eight days later. Dhoni emphasised that India would not be short of support.
"All over England, we have a big fan following," he said. "Let's not forget the Champions Trophy final, when I think we had more support than the English team. We're not short of fans in England." The Champions Trophy match last June at Edgbaston was notable for the support for the visitors, who may rue not playing a Test there this year.
It will be important for India to acclimatise quickly and to use their practice matches wisely. Fletcher is an advocate of fielding 13 or 14-a-side teams to give as many players as possible time in the middle but it does not necessarily give them a competitive edge.
Fletcher let slip that he already knows what the Test side will be. There is plenty of class there and their inexperience may match England's vulnerability. With two sides who have forgotten how to win tough Test matches anything is possible.Reuse content