Harsha Bhogle

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The weight of history and the lure of the future

In 1932 a group of romantics led by a benevolent leader descended upon Lord's to play a Test match for India against a country that still colonised it. I haven't figured that out honestly, for it means that India was regarded as an independent Test-playing nation long before it was regarded as a sovereign independent nation! Ah, the vagaries of cricket.

 

And it is therefore appropriate, even in an era that marginalises history and lives in the immediate, that the two nations play their 100th Test at the same venue exactly one week from today. England and India are bound by a colonial past, by literature, by the railways, by the English language, but most notably by cricket. But not only will this Test be the 100th such meeting between these two teams, but it will also be the 2,000th Test match ever, a phenomenal milestone.

 

It was here, in a dressing room and pavilion steeped in tradition and often pedantic practices, that an Indian captain took his shirt off and waved it in victory and no picture symbolises an irreverant India as much as that does. It is in the footsteps of a Sourav Ganguly rather than a Maharaja of Porbandar that India will play on 21 July. They may not take off their shirts again but they won't fear the burra sahib either. Indeed they start favourites, as the number one team in the world. It's been a long journey but it's been quite a journey!

 

And India, known traditionally as the land of mystical tweakers, will feature its strongest contingent of new ball bowlers at Lord's. It might well be that India will want to play on a surface that favours quick bowling, an aspect of cricket that India hasn't particularly been enamoured to in years gone by.

 

But it is the batsmen, defying age and columnists, that will be the star attraction in spite of the absence of the game-changer, Virender Sehwag. From India's middle order that first came together in 1996, three will still be playing and one will be at hand in the commentary box! Their experience will be handy because India's young are well-endowed, and gifted, but callow. This could be a quiet sunset or a glorious summer for Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. What fun it'll be if it is the latter.

 

I can't wait to see another confrontation between two cocky off-spinners. The English like to believe that Graeme Swann is the best spinner in the world and Harbhajan Singh needs something like that to spur him on to prove people wrong. Swann starts the early favourite there, which is another first - an England spinner taking top billing against India! He took 12 wickets in the three Tests between England and Sri Lanka and will definitely be itching to have a go at the Indians.

 

At the original home of Test cricket, India and England return to pay obeisance to the oldest form of the game. It will be difficult not to be moved by it.

 

Harsha Bhogle, is writing in his role as a Castrol Index spokesperson.

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