Mumbai: Occasionally fate serves up a delightful twist to an already irresistible contest. The Lord's Test in particular and the India versus England series in general, is one such example. Coincidentally, the game at Lord's is the two thousandth Test match and it launches a series where the number one ranking is on the line. And it appears that fate has come down ever so slightly in England's favour.
The first two venues in this series, Lord's and Trent Bridge, are known to favour swing bowling. England's ability to swing both the new and old ball is a big reason behind their recent rise in the rankings. In addition, India is missing it's greatest counter-attacking weapon.
None better than Sehwag
There's no batsman in the world who can disrupt bowling plans quicker than Virender Sehwag and he'll be missing for at least the first two Tests. India could dispute that reasoning by saying last time in England they played without Sehwag and won at Trent Bridge to eventually clinch the series.
They should've also won at The Oval but Rahul Dravid, in a surprisingly timid captaincy move, failed to enforce the follow-on. In the recent series in the Caribbean, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was accused of being similarly cautious in the final Test by not at least attempting a difficult run chase to try and extend India's series victory to 2-nil.
In both cases the Indian captain had a series lead and was still disinclined to allow the opposition even a sliver of a chance to level. The counter to that argument is that a captain doesn't get too many chances to win Test matches and he should grab every one and shake the life out of that opportunity.
Notwithstanding those missed opportunities, the one time for a captain not to be overly cautious is at the start of a series. At nil-all one team can take a huge step towards mental superiority in the series by being aggressive in the early going.
This is where Sehwag's absence hurts India. With Sehwag at the top of the order he's likely to gain the upper-hand in the series just by batting normally in the first session. Consequently, India will have to rely more on a wearing down process to subdue the England swing bowlers rather than Sehwag's bludgeoning tactics.
On the bowling side, India's biggest plus from the Caribbean series was the much-awaited return to form of Ishant Sharma. In a frank admission the young fast bowler said he'd tried to copy his opening partner Zaheer Khan and this had brought problems. Having rectified that mistake he's now poised to form a lethal combination with Zaheer, who is best equipped to utilise any swing on offer.
Zaheer has the added advantage of being the type of bowler who troubles England captain Andrew Strauss. If India can separate Strauss and Alistair Cook quickly then the England batting is vulnerable. Cook's consistent run of high scores was crucial in England retaining the Ashes against Australia.
England is vulnerable against good spin bowling and the best way to expose this flaw is to make early inroads. This frailty also presents India with a selection poser; do they pick two spinners or three seamers?
Yuvraj or Raina?
If they choose three seamers will they then prefer Yuvraj Singh to Suresh Raina? Yuvraj's recent bowling renaissance in ODI's makes his selection enticing, as Kevin Pietersen has shown that left-arm orthodox spinners are his kryptonite.
However, India should pick the best batsman at number six and also give serious consideration to playing Amit Mishra at some stage during the series. Given slightly helpful conditions, the steady leg-spinner could expose the English batsmen's leaden-footed approach to playing tweakers.
Battle of the offies
In addition to the battles already mentioned, there'll be many other absorbing contests. Harbhajan Singh and England's two left-handed openers; Jimmy Anderson is the best swing bowler in the game when he's on song and he'll test India's aging middle-order, never mind the less experienced opening combination.
And then there's Graeme Swann, a fine attacking off-spinner operating against batsmen who are most comfortable playing spin. There's a lot to look forward to in this series even before the number one ranking is decided.