Ready | India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni sits alongside England skipper Alastair Cook ahead of the first test in Ahmedabad. (Image | NDTV)

India are firm favourites to win the opening test of the four-match series with England, and history would certainly point this way with England failing to win a test series in India for 28 years.

The visitors are clearly underdogs, but maybe, just maybe, they have a chance of victory. Firstly, historical results have their merits, but today’s England are arguably a far better side than the country has had for decades.

Meanwhile India may well be playing high quality cricket, but England will certainly come into this with a better chance than they would normally have.

True, we might have thought this last winter when the team flew out to India for a one-day series after a monumental year, having retained the ashes in Australia, and then become the number one ranked test side after a string of glorious displays in the summer.

Perhaps that trip to India was a comedown after the determined battle throughout the summer months to earn the world’s top side status; perhaps it simply demonstrated England’s shortcomings; or maybe it was just England failing to field a successful one-day side.

In my opinion, England clearly underperformed then, and this time round the squad has more experience of playing in the subcontinent which it can draw upon during this series.

Injuries and the potential threat of Finn

England have a very unsettled squad right now with many injury issues making the line-up extremely difficult to predict. Stewart Broad and Steven Finn remain injury doubts for the first test, while Graham Swan has only just rejoined the squad after being granted compassionate leave, thus preparations have hardly been ideal, even if these individuals still play on Thursday.

We may expect Graham Onions, Tim Bresnan or Monty Panesar to step up with the performances, but this unsettled side could prove a big problem, particularly the loss of Finn.

Injury risk | Steven Finn would be a big loss for England if unavailable on the subcontinent. (Image | The Sun)

The Middlesex star was one of the positives from England’s ill-fated tour of India in October last year, producing some of his best performances: continuing on from his epic display against South Africa on the final test – claiming eight wickets.

He will certainly be determined to cement his place in the side, and Finn is a player who can make a real difference if he is fit. Spin may be the obvious threat in India, but the pace and bounce of Finn’s bowling could be the key to unsettling India’s batsmen.

The Pietersen saga is over

Previous months’ headlines and news articles have all been about Kevin Pietersen and the debacle had been a constant distraction. Pietersen would also surely have improved a rather uninspiring Twenty20 campaign for England.

However, the South African seems to have settled back into the England set-up very nicely and is scoring runs. Suddenly, he is no longer a distraction but a weapon, and a powerful one at that.

Both Pietersen and Jonathan Trott sit in the top five scoring batsmen this year, in fifth and fourth places respectively. This sort of form should provide hope for England.

In training | Kevin Pietersen could cause India a few problems in the series, having returned to the England fold. (Image | The Telegraph)

While India have many prolific batsmen themselves, you can always hold onto the knowledge that they line up with an ageing attack  of Sachin Tendulkar (39-years-old), Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Kahn (both 34-years-old). All three definitely still have the ability, but there is always hope that they will not quite be the players they were at a fresher age.

Meanwhile, Virat Kohli may be a young star, but he is relatively inexperienced and could be caught out. Then there are the spin bowlers Pragyan Ojha and Ravichandran Ashwin, who also lack experience, but have the potential to cause devastation, and the pair showed recently against New Zealand and the West Indies. Yet the form of Pietersen and Trott, among others, can hopefully combat this threat.

The importance of spin

Ahmedabad is the venue for the first test – a haven for spin bowlers – yet England are rather low on practice with spinners. One may call it cheeky or merely sensible, but the preparatory matches that India have set up for England have been severely lacking in overs bowled by spin bowlers. As a result, England have been unable to get as accustomed to the conditions as they may like.

Perhaps you may see this tactic as a little underhand, but India are not really doing anything wrong: indeed they realise the value of spin to their bowling attack, and the less accustomed England are to this the better.

Steve Harmison recently commented that England are too kind when teams visit, showing them the best grounds and decent sides to provide good preparation: instead he says we should take advantage of what we can, as India are doing now.

Despite the hopeful positives, we must remember that India are a vastly strong home side and England will have to be near their best to secure victory.

If they are going to win this series it will almost certainly be a tight 2-1 victory, whereas the prospect of an India whitewashing England would not be wholly shocking, albeit rather disappointing. It will be difficult, but there is certainly hope.

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