By Aman Huda
After a good few weeks of limited-overs cricket in which we saw the likes of Somerset smashing 250 in a domestic T20, India dominating against hosts England in the T20I series, and England fighting their way back in the One-Day series, we get ready to trade in the white ball for the red. After six limited-overs matches, India is ready to take on England in five five-day matches across six weeks.
The rivalry between England and India is special as both teams have been very successful in test cricket, especially in home conditions. Between 2015 and 2018, India won nine test series consecutively, six of them being in India. And before the Ashes, England had beat West Indies 2-1 at home and South Africa 3-1 respectively. India and England have played each other in many test matches, the first dating back to 1933, 14 years before India’s independence, but it took all the way until 1971 for India to win their first test series away in England. Of three test matches then, two were drawn and India won one giving them an inspirational away victory.
Although England has been very dominant in tests at home against every team-including India, this time India poses a threat much stronger than before. India is currently the number one ranked test side according to the ICC, and have already proven themselves in English conditions in the limited-overs matches. Along with their strong batting lineup, India has strengthened their bowling with perhaps their now best pacer, Bhuveneshwar Kumar, and looking for a test debut, left-arm spinner Kuldeep Yadav. Yadav, in just 23 One-Day matches, has picked up 48 wickets at a strong average of 19.35.
However, in the spotlight for India is their batting. Although it is generally regarded as the best in the world, there are some flaws which England will be sure to look to exploit. The first and most obvious is the skipper at number four, Virat Kohli, who although averages 53.4 in tests, has only 134 runs in five matches the last time he played test cricket in English conditions back in 2014. He has been very vulnerable outside the off stump, where he tends to edge the ball into the slips. In 2014, seven of his ten dismissals came from catches in the slip cordon. Another batsman who will need to improve on this tour is Cheteshwar Pujara, who hasn’t been very convincing as of late and risks losing his place to the likes of KL Rahul and Dinesh Karthik.
England looks to field a strong all-round team, but just like India, they have questions to answer in the batting department. For starters, their openers need to step up, especially against a team as strong as India. Alastair Cook hasn’t been performing consistently since the start of the Ashes last year and his partners keep changing. Currently in the mix is Keaton Jennings, who keeps his place from the last test series versus Pakistan and is likely to start above someone like Jamie Porter or Moeen Ali.
England’s bowling department is very reliable with James Anderson eyeing his 540th test wicket and Sam Curran keeping his place after a successful debut against Pakistan. The inclusion of leg-spinner Adil Rashid sparked the most controversy as he hasn’t played any domestic test cricket and got the green light ahead of Dominic Bess, who scored a half-century on debut against Pakistan. Captain Joe Root defended Rashid by speaking about how they were focused on someone who turns the ball more rather than their work with the bat, and against India’s right-handed batsmen, Rashid is more likely to pick up wickets than Bess.
England’s best bet to win this series will be veteran seamer James Anderson, who will be looking to claim Kohli’s wicket once again. Although he and Ishant Sharma were involved in some verbal disruptions back in 2014, England will try to keep that in the past and focus on the cricket.
This will be a heavy task for both teams, as five matches in the space of six weeks can be tough. India, despite being the number one ranked side, has a lack of preparation, just one tour match versus Essex, and they don’t have history to back them up. However, this will be the toughest India side England will have ever faced at home and their test performances against Australia and Pakistan were not fully convincing. England will need to select their starting XIs carefully going into the next five matches, keeping the conditions, the opponents, and player rest in mind.
The first test of five kicks off tomorrow, August 1st, at The Edgbaston in Birmingham, at 11 AM GMT, 15:30 (3:30 PM) IST, or 6 AM EST. The match will be broadcasted on Sky Sports in the UK, Sony Six in India, or Willow TV in the US.