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How to win a Test series in India

By Tom Fordyce

Now that the security issues around England's tour of India have been resolved, Kevin Pietersen and his team are focusing on the main job in hand - winning the two-Test series.

Even under ordinary circumstances it would be an enormously difficult task - England haven't won a series in India for 23 years.

Of the last eight Tests between the two sides on Indian soil, England have won just one - so what must they do this month to reverse that sorry trend?

Justin Langer, part of the Australia team that in 2004 won a Test series in India for the first time in 35 years, Mike Gatting, who toured India with England three times and played a key role in the series win in 1984/85, and Shaun Udal, who bowled England to victory in Mumbai in 2006, reveal the secrets of subcontinent success.

GET THE BALANCE OF THE TEAM RIGHT

Eleven of England's current squad have experience of playing in India; both Andrew Flintoff and Paul Collingwood have toured there twice.

England will take the field for the first Test in Chennai with seven of the players who finished on the winning side in the third Test in Mumbai in 2006.

According to Langer, that familiarity with Indian conditions could make an enormous difference.

Mike Gatting sweeps
Gatting sweeps on his way to a double-ton in Madras
"The core of our team in 2004 was made up of experienced players, with a sprinkling of the best young talent available," he says.

"The cricket over there is hard - beating India in India for me was like reaching the Mount Everest of my career.

"And if you want to win Test series, experience is probably the key element."

England must also find the right blend of players. In the truncated one-day series, which India led 5-0, the tourists were criticised for playing just four front-line bowlers, and sometimes relying on occasional spinner Samit Patel for their slow bowling.

For the first Test, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar have been included to provide a twin spin attack - an approach that worked wonders during England's last series win in India.

"The key for us in 1984 was that we had two decent spinners in Phil Edmonds and Pat Pocock," says Gatting.

"Added to those were decent seamers like Richard Ellison and Neil Foster who swung the ball, and batsmen who knew that when you get in, you have to make the most of it."

Edmonds and Pocock bowled 510 overs between them in that series, a monumental workload, and took a combined 27 wickets.

In the corresponding Test in Chennai 24 years ago, both Gatting and Graeme Fowler hit double centuries, providing the basis for England's nine-wicket win, while Foster's 11 wickets in Delhi were key to levelling the series.

The lessons for England's current line-up are clear.

BELIEVE IN YOURSELF, EVEN WHEN TIMES GET TOUGH

England are rank outsiders for a Test win this month. Then again, they were in 2006, when that win in Mumbai tied the three-match series.

Shaun Udal
Udal celebrates the wicket of Sachin Tendulkar in 2006
The key then, according to Udal, was patience and self-belief.

"The first couple of days didn't go my way and I didn't bowl very well," says Udal. "I couldn't stop my hands from sweating and couldn't grip the ball.

"All of a sudden on day three it changed a bit, I got a wicket and then went in as nightwatchman and hung around for a while to get 20-odd.

"Going into the fifth day I felt very calm and confident that I could play a part, there were some footmarks and it was dusty and I remember saying to Freddie (Flintoff): 'I just want to bowl, just get me on from the far end.'"

Udal's patience paid off. In India's second innings he took 4-14, including the wickets of Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, as England dismissed the hosts for 100 to win the match by 212 runs.

PLAY THE RIGHT CRICKET FOR THE CONDITIONS

England go into Thursday's first Test short of appropriate match practice, having not played a game of more than one day in duration since the last Test against South Africa at the start of August.

Even their practice time in Abu Dhabi last week was interrupted by bad weather. Despite that, they must adjust from one-day to Test match mode with immediate effect.

India is a fabulous place, and the love of the game there is fantastic

Mike Gatting
"For a batsman on the subcontinent, if you can keep your concentration and take it in small chunks, you'll get there," says Gatting, who averaged over 50 in Test matches in India.

"That's what Mike Hussey does - set himself small targets. Impose yourself on the opposition and when you get in, don't give it away.

"You have to take responsibility. When you get in with someone, make sure you keep them going. That's what Graeme and I did in Madras (Chennai).

"The batsmen have to work out how they're going to deal with the spinning tracks and the men round the bat.

"As for the bowlers, the wicket won't do much for the seamers, so they have to work out in advance what they're going to do about it."

BE AS RIGOROUS AS POSSIBLE IN YOUR PREPARATIONS

Since the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, many things have been outside the England players' control on this tour. For Gatting, it is vital that Pietersen's men don't lose sight of the things they can influence.

606: DEBATE

"You know it'll be hot in India, so for example you have to bring enough pairs of batting gloves so that you've always got a dry pair," says Gatting.

"Get yourself well organised and you'll have fewer dramas.

"A lot of touring India is accepting what you're getting in terms of the cricket and culture. Accept the sort of fields you're going to get, the conditions you're going to find, and select players who can deal with that."

MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR SITUATION

England are unlikely to take a trip to the Taj Mahal, as Langer did with the Australia team, or go out into Chennai for their evening meals, as Gatting liked to.

Even if they do have to remain in their hotel every night, however, they can turn the situation to their advantage.

Justin Langer
Langer celebrates Australia's series win over India in 2004
Langer and his team-mates were confined to their hotel in Nagpur four years ago, but found it actually helped the team-bonding process.

"Matty Hayden loves to cook for his mates," says Langer, "and he brought with him a gas cooker, a toasted sandwich-maker, a coffee-maker, a bread-maker, saucepans, all the utensils, bagfuls of coffee, tins of everything you could imagine.

"Me, Matty and Damien Martyn were all in bedrooms next to each other, and we'd be woken up every morning by the smell of freshly-cooked bread. We'd have Vegemite on fresh bread and a cup of fresh coffee.

"We'd play a day of cricket, and when we got back to the hotel Matty would spend the next hour cooking up absolute feasts.

"He'd get chicken and other fresh ingredients from the hotel kitchen and then cook up these incredible meals. There'd be these beautiful smells coming through his bedroom and down the corridor.

"We'd call it the Platinum Club. It was fantastic."

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see also
England opt for Swann and Prior
10 Dec 08 |  England
Jonathan Agnew column
10 Dec 08 |  England
The making of Monty
10 Dec 08 |  England
England set to resume India tour
03 Dec 08 |  England
England beat India to tie series
22 Mar 06 |  England
Mumbai leaves bitter taste
06 Nov 04 |  Australia
Aussies seal historic series win
29 Oct 04 |  Cricket
England in India 2008
01 Dec 08 |  Cricket


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