MUMBAI: Batting great Sunil Gavaskar says England's “final frontier” could prove to be just a small hurdle as they bid for a first Test series win against “vulnerable” India in almost three decades.
Gavaskar said the home side were going into the four-Test series against the world's number two team with a “wobbly” batting line-up and a weak-looking pace attack, with spin being the lone encouraging factor.
“Amazingly the situation is eerily similar to the tours of England and Australia last year,” Gavaskar wrote in his column in the Mumbai-based Mid-day newspaper, referring to two humiliating 4-0 routs suffered by the Indians.
“Both England and Australia were vulnerable and there for the taking, but India messed it up and after the first Test of both the series just did not look as if they would win a day leave alone five days of a Test match.
“India today are in the same vulnerable position that England and particularly Australia were in 2011.”
India ceded the world number one Test ranking to England in 2011, losing 4-0, with Australia repeating the dose in the series that started in December last year and ended in January 2012.
With England and Australia touring in a busy home season, Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men are hoping to make amends for their embarrassing reverses now they are playing in familiar conditions.
But Gavaskar said the retirement of Rahul Dravid and Venkatsai Laxman, and Sachin Tendulkar's recent poor form, had weakened the famed Indian middle-order.
“With the openers too not quite in form, the batting is looking wobbly,” wrote Gavaskar, the first batsman in history to score 10,000 Test runs.
“The settled air (in the Indian ranks) that was there at the beginning of 2011 is not there and that is why this is a great chance for England.”
Tendulkar, 39, the world's leading run-maker, has gone 25 innings without a hundred in Tests since making 146 against South Africa in Cape Town in January 2011.
In the bowling department, Gavaskar said pace spearhead Zaheer Khan lacked support with the new ball, leaving spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha to shoulder the burden of bowling England out twice.
“Ashwin is a quick learner and Ojha is very consistent,” he wrote.
“On pitches where there is some turn they could prove tricky customers.”
The return of Kevin Pietersen had made the tourists stronger, Gavaskar said, adding that new captain and opener Alastair Cook could play a vital role in England's campaign.
“Cook will be the steadying factor. He has a good record in India and if he can bat like he did in his debut series in 2006, the final frontier could just be a small hurdle for England,” Gavaskar wrote.
England, who last won a Test series in India under David Gower in 1985 and have described the forthcoming series as the “final frontier”, opened their tour on Tuesday with a three-day match against India 'A' at the Brabourne stadium in Mumbai.
The tourists will play another three-day game in Mumbai and a four-day match in Ahmedabad before Tests in Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Kolkata and Nagpur.
The tourists, who will also play two Twenty20 matches after the Tests, will go home for Christmas before returning in the New Year for a five-match one-day series.