England vs. India: Test series preview
There is currently lots of ongoing sporting buzz. Most of the United Kingdom is welcoming the new avatar of cricket that is ‘The Hundred’, and cricket’s latest version has started to develop some fanbase of its own. There are lots of discussions around IPL resumption, which will happen just before the World T20. Then, there is the Olympics going on in Japan, where sports fans from India and UK are considerably interested.
All these are obviously happening under the global pandemic situation, which has forced most of India’s cricket squad members to be in the UK for the last 8 weeks. There are injuries to some Indian key players and, also, is the withdrawal of one of the biggest stars of the game from England. But keeping everything in mind, there is enough excitement in the upcoming Test series from the fans who are also expecting some great cricket from two of the strongest teams in world cricket currently.
What happened earlier?
This year, the two teams have already played a 4-match Test series on Indian soil, where the hosts beat the tourists 3-1, utilizing the home conditions to their benefit. One of the pitches was so spin-friendly even Joe Root ended up getting a five-wicket haul. However, the condition is in so much contrast now in England’s home territory that even Axar Patel, despite getting 27 wickets in three Test matches, is nowhere close to reconning for a place in the first Test match. Like England, India also lost their last away tour by a one-sided 1-4 margin in the Test series in 2018. And although the team management’s claim that the result was not as one-sided as it looked is true, there is no doubt that there were some gaps in quality between these two teams at that point. However, the Indian team is a lot more set now, and with more players in their second or third Test tour of England, the expectation will be there to see a much closer fight between the teams.
England to play Anderson and Stokes together?
England will have a relatively new top order and will depend more on their experienced batters at the middle order and the world-class fast bowling pair. Both their first-choice openers Rory Burns and Dom Sibley, have played 25 and 20 Tests, respectively. Along with the experienced Root, Jonny Bairstow, and Jos Buttler, they also have relatively young stars like Ollie Pope, Zak Crawley, Dan Lawrence, and Haseeb Hameed, making a comeback. It will be an important call for the England team management to decide whom they should pick from the above batting options. However, with such a long Test series, all of them should hope and be prepared for a chance at any point in the series.
The team management also needs to decide the shape of their eleven to identify whether they need five batters and a wicket-keeper or extra batter support. This is where Sam Curran’s position in this XI becomes important. Curran made his debut during India’s last tour and became an instant star with some eye-catching performance with both bat and ball. In these three years, Curran has grown his reputation and also proved his worth in IPL. That will be a big boost for England if he can cover the all-rounder position left by Ben Stokes due to his unfortunate withdrawal from the series.
This will also allow them to play five front-line bowlers, including Curran, and bring Jack Leach for some variation in the attack. In the pace bowling department, they will be led by James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Combined, the pair have 1140 Test wickets. Although England team management rotated them in recent times against India, they would be expected to start together in the first couple of Tests. They also have young Ollie Robinson and Mark Wood to rotate in the third seamer’s position depending on their form and fitness.
What will be India’s opening pair?
For India, England has now become a kind of final frontier. They have last won a series in England in 2007, and although in between they have won two back-to-back series in Australia and draw series in South Africa, their performance in the seaming conditions of England was not up to the mark. It is now accepted in the circuit that this Indian team can play the bounce relatively well but fail in front of genuine swing bowling in swing-friendly conditions. To face Anderson, Broad, and friends in their own backyard will be the biggest challenge for the Indian batters. A challenge they need to win if they want them to be considered one of the all-time great squads.
India is having a severe challenge with its opening slot. For one of the spots, they have Rohit Sharma, who has just played one Test match in England as an opener and, despite his white-ball credential, has doubts over his ability to play innings in swinging conditions. But for the other spot, they need to find some new face, at least for the first Test. Shubman Gill is out of the series, and Mayank Agarwal is out of the first match due to a concussion. Prithvi Shaw has just reached England and needs to follow the Covid protocol for some more days. Now the options for India is to make someone like KL Rahul or Cheteshwar Pujara open the innings or opt for unexperienced Abhimanyu Easwaran, who is there as part of the backup squad.
In the middle order, Virat Kohli will be their biggest strength. Kohli will look to replicate his exceptional show in England in 2018, when he ended up scoring nearly 600 runs in the series. He will look for support from his deputy Ajinkya Rahane, Pujara, and Hanuma Vihari. Even Surya Kumar Yadav got a late call-up and given a chance, it will be interesting to see Whether he makes any change in his approach in Test matches or plays his trademark fearless cricket from limited-overs games. Rishabh Pant debuted during India’s last tour and showed glimpses of his brilliance with a century in the Oval. England will be even more careful of him after his heroics early this year in Gabba and Ahmedabad.
Like any other overseas tour, the choice of India’s spinner will be a big talking point. Should they go for the superior spinner in Ravichandra Ashwin or better all-rounder in Ravindra Jadeja, opt for both, and hope that the three pacers can manage their workload well. India should opt for ‘horses for courses’ mode and plan their spin strategy depending on the pitch and condition. Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, and Ishan Sharma will be their first three choices in pace bowling. They would hope for some better luck for their pacers, especially Shami, who bowled his heart out last time with very little reward. If they want to opt for an additional pacer, they have two very good options in Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur. Siraj is craftier among them with the ball, Shardul’s all-around skill can make him a preferred option in certain situations.
Overall, this series is expected to be a cracking one. This is the inaugural series for the next cycle of the World Test Championship, and Indians would look to get a winning start to overcome the failure in the WTC final in June.