x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

India are ready to turn it on at home against England

Ashwin and Ojha to lead attack on a dry pitch for the hosts against England hoping to end 27-year wait.

India spinners, from left, Pragyan Ojha, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh, are expected to shine on the dry pitch in Ahmedabad.
India spinners, from left, Pragyan Ojha, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh, are expected to shine on the dry pitch in Ahmedabad.

India's spin bowlers remained the focus on the eve of the first Test against England at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad today.

England have a quality spinner in Graeme Swann as the world's 12th-ranked bowler, nine places behind Pakistan's Saeed Ajmal who has a mystery delivery in the doosra, and against whom England struggled in a 3-0 defeat in the UAE at the start of the year.

In contrast, India's best spin bowlers are Pragyan Ojha (the world No 14), Ravichandran Ashwin (18) and an out-of-form but experienced Harbhajan Singh (25). Yuvraj Singh, as a part-time bowler, has been called a "pie-chucker" by England's Kevin Pietersen.

The slow bowlers, in conditions where England have struggled and not won a series in 27 years, have been backed by a circumspect captain MS Dhoni.

"You need to respect the opposition," said Dhoni. "Whichever country you are from, 60 or 70 per cent of your cricket will be played at home - so you're supposed to be good there.

"When you go to a different part of the world, it's a fresh challenge for you. When we go to a different place, it's the same for us. I think it will be the same for the English side here."

The pitch looks dry already, before a ball has been bowled, and Dhoni said: "I definitely think it will turn."

As for his spinners, Dhoni refused to draw comparisons with Ajmal but indicated that Ashwin will be the spearhead bowler.

"Ashwin will always be a more aggressive bowler, in the sense he is someone who has plenty of variations and loves to use them," the captain said.

"Ashwin can almost bowl each and every delivery anyone can bowl - he's got the flipper, the googly, bowls leg-spin, off-spin, the 'carrom' ball ...

"Ojha's important role is to keep it tight, so that Ashwin can attack. But sometimes, of course, it can work the other way round as well."

Ashwin, 26, has forged a strong partnership with left-arm spinner Ojha, the duo sharing 73 wickets in the five Tests they have played together.

England will hope one of their key weapons will be Pietersen, back in the side after a row with the board. But Dhoni said he was expecting him all along.

"I never doubted he would be part of the squad," Dhoni said of Pietersen. "He's a great batsman, an aggressive batsman who loves to play his shots.

"We'll enjoy the contest between him and the 'pie-chucker'."

India will be without fast bowler Ishant Sharma because of a virus, but otherwise have a fully fit squad to choose from.

Alastair Cook, Dhoni's counterpart, was confident of his team's chances and confirmed Steven Finn will be unavailable but Stuart Broad will take the field after the bowlers suffered injuries in the build-up to the tour.

"For the first time since I've been [coming] to the subcontinent, we've had three warm-up games," he said. "It's given us a chance not just to play the XI that we think is going to play in the first game, but it has given everyone a chance to get used to conditions.

"On that front, we have been really well prepared."

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