AHMEDABAD, India, (Reuters) – Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virender Sehwag played down the notion of looking to get even but revenge is very much on India’s mind when they face England in a four-test series starting in Ahmedabad tomorrow.
Just three months after guiding India to a famous 50-over World Cup victory on home soil last year, Dhoni and his men arrived in England for what proved to be a disastrous tour.
In eight painful weeks, India lurched from one humiliating defeat to another and surrendered the number one test ranking to the hosts following a 4-0 whitewash.
Wicketkeeper Dhoni, however, believes that “revenge” is a word best avoided in the sporting arena and his view is echoed by explosive opening batsman Sehwag.
“For us, it’s important to win the series. You people (the media) use words like revenge because you have to run shows and write headlines,” Sehwag recently told reporters in Delhi.
While the senior players steered clear of talking about grudges, Suresh Raina, who was part of the squad that failed to win a single international match on that tour, had no such obligation to play down India’s motivation this time.
“I was there in England last year and I feel the pain of losing that series 4-0,” the left-handed batsman told reporters upon England’s arrival in the country.
“I want to give some of that pain back.”
Raina did not make the cut for the first two tests, losing out to Yuvraj Singh, who was equally as bullish.
“Last year when we toured England, it was a difficult time for us. This time, we would like to give it back to the Englishmen,” Yuvraj said last week.
“This is definitely a revenge series for us.”
The onus will be placed on India’s slow bowlers to exploit England’s well-documented weakness against spin and the hosts are expected to request each venue prepare bouncing, turning wickets to assist their cause.
“For a long time I have not seen an off-spinner bowling to a defensive batsman and hitting the rib cage,” Dhoni said. “It’s a very painful feeling but you (as hosts) enjoy it… this is heaven for spinners.
“World over, you have different wickets behaving differently. Naturally when you come to the sub-continent, you get turning tracks.”
England skipper Alastair Cook was six-weeks old when the tourists last won a test series in India and their prospects will depend on how they negate the threat posed by off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and left-armer Pragyan Ojha.
Ashwin has replaced veteran Harbhajan Singh as India’s spin spearhead and has forged a strong partnership with Ojha, the duo sharing 73 wickets in the five tests they have played together.
England’s spin frailty was on display when Pakistan thrashed them 3-0 in the United Arab Emirates at the beginning of the year and the 1-1 drawn series in Sri Lanka.
India denied the tourists valuable practice against quality spin by not including a frontline slow bowler in the first warm-up match, an unpopular decision that seemed to underline an eagerness to do whatever it takes to hurt England.
Much to the travelling Barmy Army’s delight, England have resolved the text message controversy surrounding Kevin Pietersen and “re-integrated” the batsman, who represents the tourists’ main weapon against the home spinners.
Cook will also hope that Nick Compton, expected to make his England debut and be the captain’s opening partner following the retirement of Andrew Strauss, can live up to expectations.
Compton, grandson of former England batting great Denis, got some useful runs in the practice matches after a poor start to the tour.
England have two useful spinners in Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar while left-armer Samit Patel has also staked a claim for a spot with some useful all-round contributions.
Not that India are without problems of their own.
The batting department is going through a transition and it will be the first real test for the likes of Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara to prove that they can fill the shoes of retired stalwarts Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.
Openers Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir will look to get over a lean patch while the team will hope that experienced seamer Zaheer Khan, who has a history of injury problems, can remain fit through the series.
Former India captain Sourav Ganguly is among those who expect the four-test series to be keenly contested.
“It’s the only team which has come to India with two quality spinners in Swann and Panesar,” Ganguly said.
“Of all the teams that have come over the last 10-12 years, I think they are the best equipped to beat India. It’s going to be a hard tour.”