After a long summer in which England lost their coveted number one Test status as well as their captain, a new-look side now face the toughest tour on the Test schedule as they travel to India for a four match Test series.
South Africa really battered England from pillar to post in the summer, and unless the tourists discover how to play spin on the sub-continent, they can forget about winning their first Test series in India for 27 years.
An injury-hit bowling attack has been the main issue for England heading into the opening Test on Thursday morning, with Steven Finn already ruled out and Stuart Broad far from 100%. A strong start to the tour by Tim Bresnan will see him deputise, while Samit Patel will bat at six to give the visitors another spin option.
The other major bit of team news for England will be the debut of Somerset opener Nick Compton, who has the daunting task of replacing former skipper Andrew Strauss at the top of the order. The 29-year-old may be late to the Test cricket party, but his 1,494 first-class runs at an average of 99.60 this summer - along with some solid performances on tour thus far - will see him nip in ahead of fellow new boy Joe Root.
It’s unlikely there will be any surprises when the India team is announced at the toss tomorrow, with coach Duncan Fletcher certain to favour an even two spinner and two seamer attack. The retirement of England nemesis Rahul Dravid is an obvious loss for the hosts, but with Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar and Virhat Kohli still going strong, the Indian batting line-up remains one of the most feared in world cricket.
India were humiliated when these two sides met in the summer of last year - they were whitewashed 4-0 on English turf. So it came as little surprise when wind-up merchant Harbhajan Singh admitted revenge was a word rife throughout the Indian camp. The spinner also stirred the pot by highlighting England’s obvious struggles with spin against Pakistan in the UAE at the start of this year. But aside from the pot-stirring, he has a point.
It must also be noted that the two sides that met in England last summer will not resemble the two sides facing off this week; last summer England were at the peak of their powers while India were in transition, and now the roles are practically reversed with India the more established side.
The pitch in Ahmedabad means that the toss tomorrow morning is one of those that all pundits are labelling ‘must-win’. As you might expect, the pitch, which has played host to five draws in its last seven Tests, is very dry, flat and conducive to spin, so whichever team wins the toss will be delighted to have a bat first.
With the Ahmedabad pitch the way it is I have to recommend the draw at 2.25, although if I had the draw no bet option I would definitely back India here as I cannot see this patched-up England bowling attack causing their world class opponents much trouble.
In the batting markets, Virhat Kohli (top India batsman 4.0) is the stand-out for India. For England, while these sorts of slow and low pitches are bound to suit England’s Jonathan Trott (4.50), don't be surprised if the recalled Kevin Pietersen works his magic in the first innings at 4.50.
On that Pietersen-related note, check out our moneyback special: If KP is top first innings runscorer for England, then we'll refund all losing bets.