Test cricket will celebrate its 2000th match with a series opener between England and India at Lord’s that promises to delight both statisticians and Sachin Tendulkar should the ‘Little Master’ mark an already landmark occasion with a 100th international hundred.
The match is also the 100th Test between England, who gave birth to cricket, and India, now top of the ICC’s Test rankings, the 50-over world champions and the sport’s financial powerhouse.
That means it will feature a clash between the ‘old world’ and the ‘new’ – as there was, albeit in a different fashion, when England travelled to Melbourne to play Australia in the very first Test in 1877.
Tendulkar arrives at the ‘home of cricket’, as Lord’s likes to call itself, having had to contend with a level of admiration arguably unequalled in both its frenzy and duration in cricket history.
And having scored a record 99 hundreds – 51 in Tests and 48 in one-day internationals in a career that started when he was a 16-year-old in 1989 – that adulation will only intensify should he reach three figures at Lord’s, where his previous Test-best is a modest 37.
The ever-modest Tendulkar, his teammates and opponents have all said the same thing: there is more to this match than Sachin.
“I’m not thinking of records,” he insisted. “I’m just thinking of enjoying this tour,” added Tendulkar, whose four previous Tests at Lord’s have yielded a meagre top score of 37.
And he is far from the only star in a powerful top-order featuring the likes of Rahul Dravid, who made 95 at Lord’s on his Test debut in 1996, and Venkatsai Laxman.
“It would be very, very risky to focus all our energies on one player,” said England off-spinner Graeme Swann.
“Sure, he’s the best player of the modern generation, but if we focus on one guy another will sneak in the back door and take it away from us.
“In MS Dhoni (India’s captain) they have possibly the most charismatic player India has ever had, with the sway he holds in that country now.
“I think he is the most important player in that team now. He leads from the front, is a very dangerous cricketer and if we can get at anyone then he is probably the key man.”
India could rue the shoulder injury that has ruled out Virender Sehwag from at least the first two Tests of this four-match contest – a series that if England win by 2-0, 3-1 or better will see them replace the tourists at the top of the ICC’s Test table.
Sehwag’s fearless strokeplay has confounded the traditional notion of openers merely ‘seeing off’ the new ball and, however well Gautam Gambhir and Abhinav Mukund, India’s new first wicket pair start, they are unlikely to take the match away from England in quite the same style.
England too boast an in-form top order with Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott both in the runs.
And yet it remains as true now as it ever did, that the side that can most easily take their opponents 20 wickets will emerge victorious.
That was the case in 2007 when India whose attack, then as now, was led by left-arm fast bowler Zaheer Khan won a Test series in England 1-0.
“If we can keep our fast bowlers fit, then we’ll be very competitive,” said Dravid, whose team will have to contend with an England attack featuring giant fast bowler Chris Tremlett, who impressed against India in his debut series four years ago.
They will also have to acclimatise quickly should the swinging conditions associated with Lord’s and Trent Bridge, the venues for the first two Tests of this series, emerge again if the skies in London and Nottingham are overcast.
This tour has seen India, who last week drew against a Somerset side where ‘guest’ Andrew Strauss, the England captain, managed 78 and 109, play just the one warm-up match hot on the heels of their arrival from a series win in the West Indies.
Duncan Fletcher always used to play-down the importance of warm-up fixtures when he was coach of England.
Now the Zimbabwean is in charge of India, time will tell if he regrets a schedule inconceivable at the dawn of Test cricket 134 years ago.