This is the reality for the English Test team as they look forward to enjoying some Christmas cheer with some hearty toasts to their recent exceptional play. That has seen them ascend to the summit of the Test game. Though as they enjoy the comforts of home, in all their subliminals is the greatest challenge of all that they face in far off foreign lands in 2012
In the spectre of trying to rule in Asia, where they will face all of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and then India in Tests. In the wake of them being so comprehensively beaten in a meaningless ODI series in India recently. Their chances of prevailing in Asia in Tests has been somewhat laughed off because of their 'perceived' weakness in playing against spin. Though, little was said of the absence of mainstays of the English batting in Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell and Matt Prior, and honestly, when is ODI Cricket ever a guide for Test Cricket?
Further dispelling this belief are the records of the English top 6 in their visits previously to Asia:
Andrew Strauss: 14 innings, average 41.00 (career average- 41.98), and 3 centuries
Alistair Cook: 18 innings, average 57.75 (career average-49.72), and 4 centuries
Ian Bell: 25 innings, average 44.13 (career average-49.28), and 2 centuries
Kevin Pietersen: 25 innings, average 40.95 (career average-50.48), and 2 centuries
Jonathan Trott: 4 innings and an average of 34
In looking at the figures, you can see that all the English batsmen have had success in Asia with centuries. The only exception is Jonathan Trott, who has only batted in 4 innings. Then giving further weight to the figures is the recent improvements of Cook and Bell coupled with the inclusion of Trott to the Team. As well as the names of immortal spinners such as Muttiah Muralitharan and Anil Kumble will not be there to give the English batsmen head aches due to retirement.
So, lets look at England's chances against all the teams starting with the merits of their Team, and its make up.
The key for the success of the Team, will be how the bowling adapts to the conditions away from the bowling friendly conditions at home. There is a huge question mark over this because of the absence of swing in Asian conditions, and then the neutralising of Graeme Swann's effect against fine players of spin.
I have faith in the pace attack having a real threat. Due to them being multi dimensional in regards to not solely being dependant on swing, but also being adept at prizing wickets out with tight sustained lines. Then great skill in getting seam off the pitch, and any reverse swing on offer. Last, but not least is the support the bowling unit gets from its exceptional fielding and catching.
As for the batting, it is the best unit in the game with its class laden top 6, and host of all rounders stretching the batting threat to 8. I think it is time to move Ian Bell permanently to 3 in the line up to increase the threat through having a more complete player in that position. Reverting, Trott to 5, where he can solidify the lower middle order in between stroke players like Pietersen and Eoin Morgan
Lastly, there needs to be a horses for courses approach to individual Tests in response to the nature of the pitches. If there is a batting friend pitch, England has to show the confidence in the supreme batting of Matt Prior to move him up to 6, and include 5 bowlers. In the knowledge that Prior is as good as any top 6 batsmen in the game, and that with Broad, Bresnan and Swann in the line up. You can have faith in all of those to be contributors with the bat.
People think I am insane, when I say Matt Prior is Englands most important player. Though as Adam Gilchrist was for Australia, Prior is for England.
In the sense of a very fine gloveman, and a very refined and dangerous batsman. That could bat in any top 6 on skill alone. This gives the Team as they look forward to the challenge of Asia such balance. For they can move Prior to 6 allowing 5 bowlers to play on batting pitches, and not lose a wink of sleep
In my view, the best, and most complete batsmen in World cricket at present. His innings on a very challenging Trent Bridge pitch against Indian in the England Summer showed a completeness initially in defence, and then branching out with attack and eventual domination.
This season, he has announce his rise averaging 118.75 with 5 centuries, and next Season he will get the respect for his rising greatness.
People often overlook this big hearted Yorkshireman, but at their peril. For he is one of the rare breed of thinking bowlers. He is so intelligent with his nagging line and length and use of the short ball. Which makes the seam and swing he gets even more threatening.
The focus of opposition batsmen will be on the hyped bowlers of the English attack like Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Graeme Swann allowing Bresnan to reap the benefits. Through the batsmen having lapses, and him victimising the Teams through getting bags of wickets
Pakistan: 3 Tests January- February in the UAE
The rise of Pakistan recently has been remarkable with them being undefeated in every Test series since the sad events in England of last year. They are a settled unit under the leadership of Misbah ul Haq, and are gaining respect with every Test. Due to their strict adherence to the basics of the game, that are so overlooked in an age that is hysterical over the T20 flashy cricket
Their strength is their bowling unit with very fine pace bowlers lead by Umar Gul, and then the best and most complete spin attack headed by the exceptional Saeed Ajmal. Their batting is viewed as a weakness, but as the youngsters find great surety in the Test arena. They will add to the steal already evident in the line up with the names of Younis Khan and Misbah.
Pakistan's Key Men
The silent batting great on the World scene has been getting better and better after returning from an inexplicable exile from the Team. He is a complete batsman, and the English will have to show him the highest respect.
For if they do not, he will flog them like Government Mules.
The best spinner in the game today with arguably the most lethal delivery in the current age in his Doosra. If the English are in anyway suspect against spin, then this wily twirler will run through their batting like a hot knife through butter
The Pakistani have been showing faith in the big hearted left arm spin of veteran Abdur Rehman, but in this young prodigy Raza Hasan. They have a left arm orthodox spinner, that is anything but orthodox. Possessing a lethal left arm version of the Doosra.
If Pakistan include him in the team for this series, then England better show him the highest respect. For he has dominated in all levels of the game, and is regarded by many as the next great World spinner.
The English have to employ the old Australian tactics against Sri Lanka and Murali. In the respect, that they have to neutralise Saeed Ajmal, and the rest of the vaunted Pakistani spin corp. As a result of this, it will put more pressure on the Pakistani seamers to perform, who all have talent, but not sustained results as yet.
Also, as brilliantly employed against India, they need to break down the Pakistani fielding through their stealing of singles, and turning ones into two's. Which further undermines Pakistan's great strength in its bowling. Adding pressure to its batting line up, that has potential, but on occasion can be fragile
Pakistan is a Team that is very dangerous, but England at present looks too strong for them. Though, I think Pakistan might steal a game with the series finishing 2/1
Sri Lanka: 2 Tests in March-April
There are young players of potential, that could lift the Team such as Dinesh Chandimal, Nuwan Pradeep and Suraj Randiv amongst others. Though at present, the team is still struggling in the absence of Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas, and the huge hole their retirements left in Sri Lanka's bowling.
Sri Lanka's Key Men
In any series against Sri Lanka for the last 10 odd years, these two exceptional batsmen have represented opposition Teams greatest challenge.
Who would dare to bet against these two dominating again with the willow?
In watching this young off spinner trouble all the Indian batsmen last year, it was just assumed that Murali's successor was found. Strangely since, he has struggle, which truly defied logic going on the talent he displayed against the Indians.
I think it will only be a matter of time for him to turn it around, and rediscover his threat, and when he does, the English will have to be wary against him.
The Sri Lankans have had huge issues at the top of their order with a host of openers being tried, and failed. Even the mainstay at the top in Tillakaratne Dilshan reverted back to the middle order against Australia. Throwing the team out completely
In this young left arm attacking opener, the team has a long term answer at the top of the order. It wouldn't surprise at all to see him in the Test team for this series against England
In the absence of strength in Sri Lankas pace attack, you can see the hosts creating spin friendly pitches to support their spinners. Duly, the success for the English will depend on their batsmen adapting to the spin onslaught.
Then as always with Sri Lanka, a huge reliance will come on Mahela and Sangakkara when they bat. Meaning the English need to keep these two under control. As well as paying respect to the rising star of Sri Lankan cricket in Angelo Mathews, who can be deadly dangerous with the bat
I cannot see Sri Lanka's bowlers having enough class to trouble the English batsmen, and then the English bowlers should lord it over the hosts batsmen.
Meaning 2 Tests, and two wins for England
India: Likely to be 4 Tests in October/November
England might have destroyed India recently in England, but the corresponding Tour in India next year promises to be a knock down drag them out affair.
Mainly because it is nigh on impossible to beat India at home, and since the mauling in England, the Indian powers that be have been replenishing the line up with bright young talent. Add into this, the fact that most of the Indians game super powers in home conditions, and then you fully realise the challenge England face.
India's Key Men
The Indian batting line up is one of the best in the games history, and most regard Sehwag as the key to it. In the knowledge, that with how he devastates bowling with his brutal assaults, it takes all the pressure off the middle order to excel. Meaning that the likes of Tendulkar, Laxman and the like can come in, and know they are under little pressure with all the focus being on Viru.
If Sehwag plays as he can in India, well England will have little or no hope of beating them.
There is something about this young bowler that you really like. He just has the eye of the tiger, that shows such a steely resolve and relentless determination to succeed. Making his temperament exemplary.
Then as a bowler, he represents what Western batsmen do not like playing against in the respect of his unorthodox style. He is termed as an off spinner, but has a lovely bit of variety to go with his traditional craft. I can see him being a huge success as a Test bowler, and a huge threat for the English next year
In my view this young batsman is exceptional, and if it was not for injuring blighting his career, he would have firmly established himself in the Indian top 6. A lot can happen in between now and next year, and at present Virat Kohli is the love child of Indian selectors due to his exceptional exploits in T20/ODI's. In my mind there is little doubt about Kohli's talent, but at present I think there is a flaw in his technique against the short ball, that bowlers will exploit.
Meaning he will more than likely be found out in Australia in the upcoming Tour, and by this time next year Pujara will be firmly entrenched in the top 6.
The English will need to respect him, for he has everything in his make up to be a great Test batsman.
The English cut the Indians to ribbons through destroying their batting in England, but this will be so much more difficult to do in India. In the knowledge, that the Indians will try to blight the English pace strength as well as supporting their batting with low, slow pitches that spin.
This sets up a trap, that many visiting Teams to India fall into in the respect that they think they have to have spinners in the line up to suit the conditions. Only serving to feed the Indian batsmen greatest strength in playing spinners of any class or calibre. Just ask the immortal Shane Warne, who averaged over 45 in India!
So, the English need to go to school on this, and modify their line up to achieve success. Matt Prior has to move up to 6 allowing 5 bowlers to play with Swann and 4 pacemen. It was Australia's blueprint for success in prevailing with victory in India in 2005 with the duo of Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie claiming 34 wickets between them in the 4 Test series.
Crucially, in support of the pacemen, Graeme Swann needs to be a factor in picking a wicket here and there, and not being mauled to the extent that their is no faith in using him. For the Indian's will have the Metallica song 'Seek and Destroy' playing over in their heads when they see Swann.
If the bowling can neutralise the Indian batting, then you can see the English batting being strong enough to assert control in the series with its class.
Though, ruling India's batting in India is the toughest prospect in the game..........
The immortal Aussies found it almost impossible to beat India in India.
So, though I cannot see England beating India, but by the same token England is a very difficult Team to beat.
Meaning a compelling and must see series that might end deadlocked at either 1 all or 2 all