Tendulkar arrives in good company

Derek Pringle, the Independent's new Cricket Correspondent, greets the globetrotting Indians as they touch down and suggests England understimate them at their peril
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Barely a cuckoo has been heard and already the Indian tourists have had their first net at Lord's. With just a week's rest under their belts since their last one-day tournament in Sharjah (the second since the World Cup), their arrival here on Tuesday has even outstripped the first ball of the County Championship, due to be bowled sometime today.

Clearly, it is not just the England side that is buffeted around the globe from one tournament to the next. As ever, though, it is stars like Sachin Tendulkar, India's 23-year-old batting supernova, who have to soak up most of the pressure on the pitch, as well as giving up much of their time off it.

Much is expected of Tendulkar, who is also vice-captain, but then it always has. Ever since he burst on to the Test scene as a precocious teenager in 1989, the Indian public have proclaimed him a treasure and nationalised him.

It is a weighty encumbrance that few others, save Brian Lara, can even begin to imagine and one that - unhappily for England's bowlers - India's cricket manager, Sandip Patil, reckons affects him far more at home than abroad, where he is less likely to have the rushes of blood that remain the weak point of his game.

"Batting at No 4, the people back home are expecting big things from me. It's not the first time so I'm pretty relaxed about it now. In a way I've got used to it. I now know the only thing that matters is to go to the middle and play my natural game and runs will come automatically."

It says much about the modesty and wisdom of the player that he keeps his cricket and his commercial activities separate. "They are two sides of a coin and I don't want to mix those two sides," he said, dead-batting an obvious long-hop, before confirming that his deals through WorldTel - his agents, who bought the television rights to the last World Cup - will be worth approximately $7.5m (pounds 5m) over the next five years.

With endorsements of Pepsi, Visa and Phillips, it is enough to be a one- man industry. However, any suggestions that India are a one-man batting side should be quickly scotched, despite the sketchy form of the skipper, Mohammed Azharuddin (only two half-centuries in the last six months). Any line-up that can boast the likes of Navjot Sidhu, Sanjay Manjrekar and Ajay Jadeja must not be taken lightly, and much is expected of the newcomer, Vikram Rathore, a young opening bat from the Punjab.

Traditionally, India's batsmen have all been vulnerable to the seaming ball. Since 1932, they have won only two Test series in England. One in 1971, when Raymond Illingworth was captain of England, and again in 1986, when Mike Gatting was at the helm.

However, as most Test pitches here are now fairly bare, and all but two of the current party have played either league or county cricket in England, it is less likely to be a factor in deciding the outcome of the series. This was a point the Indian selectors clearly took into consideration when they picked two leg-spinners, Anil Kumble and Narendra Hirwani, and two slow left-arm bowlers, Venkatapathy Raju and Sunil Joshi.

Kumble was the highest wicket-taker in county cricket last season with 105 dismissals and remains a threat with his bounce, irrespective of whether a pitch turns. In any case, Javagal Srinath, who opened the bowling for Gloucestershire last year, was only 18 wickets behind him, so even if Illingworth were suddenly to persuade the groundsmen to produce greentops, it is unlikely that England could take advantage, particularly if Dominic Cork's knee injury should flare up again.

Somewhat surprisingly, given that over the past few months they seem to have been playing just about anywhere that has a cricket pitch, this will be India's first overseas Test series for three years. The last was a disastrous visit to South Africa in 1993, which threatened to topple Azharuddin from the captaincy until England turned him into a hero by bellyflopping to a 3-0 whitewash in India.

If Michael Atherton is hoping India will return the favour, he may have to wait a while yet. For despite six of the party having yet to experience Test cricket, there is a very real confidence that the greenhorns will learn quickly, particularly Paras Mhambrey, a pace bowler from Bombay and one of the few bowlers who does not hail from Karnataka.

"Certainly it is tough, having players who have not played Tests," said Patil, India's impressive and upbeat manager, who among other things has been a film star and a pop singer. "Yet in a way it is good. Those who have not played Tests always look forward to it, so it is not a big worry."

Azharuddin, wrapped in at least five layers of clothing (it was well over 100F when the team left Delhi) was in agreement, and felt that the youngsters would push the senior players, which could only be a good thing.

As he toddled off to find another sweater, he for one will be hoping it turns out to be an Indian summer.