England to take on India A in opening warm-up match

Mumbai: England's cricketers start their preparations for what promises to be a gruelling Test series against India by taking on India 'A' in a three-day warm-up game here from tomorrow.

Led by opener Alastair Cook, who made a fine debut in India with a half century and an unbeaten century to boot at Nagpur in March 2006, the Englishmen have arrived with a mission to become the first team from their shores to defeat India in a Test rubber since David Gower's 1984-85 tourists.

England have won a few Tests on the Indian soil, notably in Cook's debut series when Indian batsmen crumbled against the spin of long-forgotten Shaun Udal and the pace of James Anderson and Andrew Flintoff, but have never clutched the Test rubber in hand while departing.

England are coming off a 0-2 series loss to South Africa that also took away their top ranking in Tests. Now they face a determined-looking India, who are waiting to avenge the humiliating 4-0 whitewash sustained last year in England.

That the visitors had practiced extensively for three days in Dubai against their own spin bowlers Graeme Swann, Monty Panesar and Samit Patel at the ICC Global Cricket Academy is a clear sign of what they expect would be the biggest hurdle here.

However, the home team, in the warm-up game led by Test middle order aspirant Suresh Raina, does not have any spin bowlers to boast of, viewed as a deliberate ploy to deprive the visiting batsmen any practice against slow bowling.

The return of Kevin Pietersen as the 17th additional member after his recent patch-up with teammates would be another interesting piece of the puzzle.

The patch-up came after weeks of peace talks that followed his unceremonious ouster for off-field happenings despite scoring a hundred midway through the Test rubber against South Africa at home.