England relishing India challenge
England are hoping their big-game temperament can help spoil the “party” India have planned at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore tomorrow.
Captain Andrew Strauss is well aware of his team’s ominously poor record against the World Cup favourites - they have not beaten India in any form of cricket for almost four years - but is confident the big stage will bring out England’s best.
India, he senses, may by contrast fall prey to the huge weight of expectation from the one billion-strong population of their cricket-obsessed country.
Strauss cites England’s world-beating exploits at last year’s ICC World Twenty20 in the Caribbean - where they won their first global trophy, under Paul Collingwood - as evidence that they can rise to the occasion again not just in this second Group B match but throughout their sub-continental campaign.
“In some ways, perhaps there’s more pressure on India than us in this game,” he said.
“We’ve played a lot of good cricket in big games in the last 24 months or so. That’s something we’re very proud of, that in high-pressure games we’ve performed well. This is one of those games, and we’re very confident of doing well again.
“I think there’s a real vibe and excitement and enthusiasm about our guys. If you can get a couple of breakthroughs early and put the Indian batting order under pressure they’re obviously carrying a lot of expectation on their shoulders.
“Playing against India is always a big challenge. But we’re up for it and think we can do well. It’s not something we’re overawed about; it’s something we’re very excited about.”
A victory for England, against opponents they may end up playing 19 times this year, would identify them as big-hitters in this tournament.
Strauss, however, is careful not to get ahead of himself on that score - in the knowledge England are up against the might of Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, among a sheet full of other superstar names in India’s ranks.
“It would be potentially a huge lift for us and would send out a pretty strong marker to other sides,” he added.
“We’ve got to do it first ... but we’d love to spoil an India party here in Bangalore.
“There’s a huge sense of anticipation. This is a huge occasion. It’s going to be a great atmosphere, and I think it’s one of those games that everyone dreams of playing - against India, in the World Cup on their home turf.”
If England are to prevail, a return to his best for Kevin Pietersen would clearly not go amiss.
He has not made a one-day international hundred since he did so against India in the final match of a curtailed series which England lost 5-0 on their last tour of this country in 2008.
But Strauss, optimistic after Pietersen’s surprise move up the order to open, said: “I think this is the sort of match that brings out the best in him.
“In the big matches and big tournaments, generally we see the best of Kevin Pietersen. I don’t think it’s time to take the pressure off (him). It’s a World Cup - we all need to stand up and perform. He knows that as well as anyone else.
“We know what he can bring to our side when he does perform, because he’s a match-winning player and one other sides will fear.”
Pietersen and his fellow batsmen will face a trial by spin at some point tomorrow - if they stay in long enough - with Harbhajan Singh their chief adversary.
“If it is a challenge on a turning wicket then we are fully up for it,” said Strauss. “If it’s going to turn then it will challenge all batsmen. We’ve got to be good enough to counteract that, and I think we will be.”
Irrespective of how they play Harbhajan, though, one thing England must improve drastically from their scrambled opening win over the Netherlands is their fielding.
“What they have had is a pretty stark wake-up call, that we can’t be that bad again,” the captain said of his players.
“I think we all know that. They don’t need me to ram it down their necks. But it has happened very infrequently to us, and I don’t expect it to happen again in a hurry.
“We take a lot of pride in our fielding. In this game, I think our fielding could be an advantage. The most important thing is we’re switched on, and all 11 of us recognise our responsibilities to put in a flawless fielding performance.”
Should pace bowler Stuart Broad overcome a stomach upset in time as expected, after having to miss nets today, the only selection question facing Strauss and team director Andy Flower is whether to bring in Michael Yardy as an extra spinner.