As I write, there remain but two hours to go before the action kicks off at Lords in the first test between India and England. This one is going to be a historic occasion: the 100th test match between India and England and the 2000th test match. Yet, the historic significance pales against the prospect of the world's No.1 team up against a worthy contender capable of usurping its place. Add to it the prospect of Tendulkar, Laxman and Dravid- three Indian legends- playing in England one last time, up against what must currently rank as the most potent attack in the world.
For once, there is no need for hype. The context and occasion alone make for a mouth watering prospect. The eyes of the cricket world are on India and England for what could be one of the most keenly contested series in recent times. Predictions as to the outcome of the series have been coming nineteen to the dozen and this writer would like to add his two pence worth to the debate.
Given the conditions, England must rank as slight favourites to win this series for two reasons: England have the clear advantage in the pace department. The playing conditions in England have favoured the pace bowlers in recent years, with bounce and movement for the quicks on offer, which the home side is well equipped to exploit. Secondly, India does not have a settled opening pair. In Abhinav Mukund, they have a youngster playing in his first season of international cricket and this could present an opportunity for England to get a crack at the powerful Indian middle order even before the shine is off the ball.
Nevertheless, England's advantage at the outset only seems marginal, given that seaming conditions could also prove tricky for their own batsmen, who were found struggling against Pakistan last summer. Should Zaheer Khan find his rhythm early into the series, the Zaheer-Ishant-Munaf combination can nullify England's advantage. England have a settled opening pair, but the middle order is not nearly as strong as India's.
The one uncertainty is regarding the spin department. Graham Swann is unlikely to be a major factor against the Indians, given the conditions and Indian batsmen's mastery of spin. And so the one factor that could make a huge difference is Harbhajan Singh. Having struggled for consistency in recent times, it looks unlikely that Harbhajan will be a consistent threat. But in a series between two evenly contested sides, one magic spell from him could well tilt the scales. Should he struggle on the other hand, England could have a field day against him.
In short, for every factor favouring one side, there are mitigating circumstances balancing the advantage. This is the foreteller's ultimately nightmare. Nevertheless, with less than two hours to go before the action commences at Lords', this writer's prediction is 2-1 to England.