South Africa’s seamers sent England an almost perfect instruction manual for dismantling the India batting line-up in the first innings of the first Test in Centurion.
South Africa, led by Morne Morkel’s blistering 5-20, exploited the Indian’s lack of recent exposure to the short ball to devastating effect.
England may currently be embroiled in the third Ashes Test in Perth but their analysts will doubtless have one eye on the events in South Africa with India next summer's marquee opposition.
After a delayed start due to rain, Graeme Smith sent Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men in on a spicy looking track.
World number one ranked bowler Dale Steyn dismissed danger man Virender Sehwag for a duck, caught at third man aiming a wild drive at just his third delivery.
Fellow opener Gautam Gambhir struggled to come to terms with 6’5" Morkel’s steepling bounce, taking a blow on the helmet before edging to Paul Harris for just five.
Rahul Dravid was Morkel’s next victim, trapped LBW before VVS Laxman, Suresh Raina and the great Sachin Tendulkar fell in quick succession.
Tendulkar also fell LBW to the excellent Steyn, while the evergreen Jacques Kallis weighed in with two useful wickets, including that of the under pressure Raina.
Few of the wickets fell to short deliveries, it was the quality of their aggression which set up many of the dismissals.
Middle order worries?
India’s middle order is unquestionably the most imposing in the world game. Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar have an aggregate 34,016 runs and 96 centuries between them in 438 Test matches*.
England will be desperate to negate their run-scoring prowess and with a battery of tall seamers at their disposal South Africa’s success could be pointing the way.
Stuart Broad stands at 6’5" - practically dwarfed by teammates Steven Finn at 6’8" and the 6'7" Chris Tremlett.
The series opens at the Home of Cricket, where India have only registered one victory in 15 visits – a five wicket win in 1986.
Their last clash in NW8 in 2009 also finished in England’s favour when the hosts won a thrilling ICC World Twenty20 fixture by three runs.
England employed aggressive short-pitched tactics on that occasion to stifle the defending champions’ attacking instincts.
India will point to their 2007 ICC World T20 win in South Africa as evidence of their ability to bat in relatively alien conditions.
They have also produced some impressive performances in Australia in recent years, including a 72-run win at the WACA in 2008 - albeit on a slower pitch than normal in Perth.
They also have the second innings in Centurion and Tests in Durban and Cape Town to acclimatise before the Lord’s Test starts on Thursday 21 July.
The World Cup on the sub-continent and Indian Premier League (IPL) follow though meaning their arrival in England will once again present them with unfamiliar conditions.
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