The Joe Root-led England will hope to earn maximum points possible against India in the upcoming five-match Test series for the Pataudi Trophy, starting on Wednesday, August 4 at Trent Bridge, aiming to make a strong start to the new cycle of ICC World Test Championship which gets underway with this bilateral affair.
The hopes and expectations will be high from the home team to come good against a dangerous Indian cricket team given that England enjoy a great dominating run at home.
But as it is known, this is a game of great uncertainties and what better example can one give other than India’s, who recorded a historic second consecutive series victory in Australia against all the odds earlier this year.
England have not only won the last three series against India in their backyard since their narrow 0-1 loss to the Rahul Dravid-led side in 2007, but they have dominated thoroughly with both bat and the ball. England have inflicted heavy defeats against one of the best teams in the world which also remained at the top of the rankings for a long span of time in these years.
In 2011, the 50-over world champions India lost 0-4 to England, in 2014 they played a little better in another forgettable outing wherein the outcome was 1-3, and in 2018, a tour in which the visitors fought incredibly hard, still failed to get a better result than 1-4.
Virat Kohli has remained the biggest threat for England in the last two or three meetings which these two teams have had, and it would be daft for England to take this Indian team lightly on any front.
There will also be an extra layer of motivation for England after their 1-3 drubbing at the hands of India earlier this year in the opponent’s backyard. It was a series played on flat and turning wickets, something that proved to be extremely harsh on a young English line-up which was completely blown away.
India made full use of their conditions and the advantage of being the home team to prepare pitches that endorsed their own spinners more than any other party involved in the bilateral affair. It is something that would embolden England to prepare such pitches that suit the style of cricket they play and the one in which India usually struggle — on seaming, green-top pitches with England carrying the best weapon in the on-field battles in the form of James Anderson.
However, at the same time, Root & Co will be somewhat troubled by the absence of their twin big guns in the form of Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer. Stokes has announced a shock but universally accepted and applauded break from cricket for indefinite time, which leaves a huge chasm in the English firepower. The unavailability of Archer — one of the best fast bowlers at present — would be certainly felt.
England’s batting faces stern test
Indeed, batting could be England’s Achilles Heel given that they have plenty of young and inexperienced batsmen who are vying to cement their positions in the team. Apart from the experience of Root, England have the likes of Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Dan Lawrence, Ollie Pope, and experienced wicketkeeper-batsmen in Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow, who will be bestowed with the additional pressure of getting runs in the absence of Stokes.
England have also called up the exciting and young opening batsman Haseeb Hameed, who made a splendid start to his Test career about half a decade ago in India but vanished from the international scene soon after.
Hameed scored a fine century against India playing for the Select County XI in the tour match last month, and he will be expected to come good if he gets a chance ahead of the other regular England openers in Burns, Crawley and Sibley.
Given the fact that the bowling department is the only area where England are convincingly robust, their batsmen will have to put in the hard yards to ensure that there are enough runs on the board for the bowlers to keep pressure on the Indian batting line-up.
All these batsmen had a horrific time in India a few months ago, particularly the likes of Crawley and Sibley, who just could not breathe easy against the relentless Indian spin attack.
However, the challenge this time around will be against the battery of Indian fast bowlers who have been absolutely spot-on with their bowling plans — well-worked lines and lengths that choke the runs and life out of batsmen all around the world. Ask Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne.
Root remains England’s biggest hope with the bat followed by the likes of Bairstow and Buttler, who should both play, given the fact that Ollie Pope is likely to miss the opening Test match as he is struggling for fitness.
The Jimmy Anderson factor
India’s old nemesis and the world’s best fast bowler in terms of most wickets taken in the conventional format, the evergreen Anderson is all set once again to unleash his fury the way he has so many times in the past, on visiting team batting lineups.
Anderson is fit and firing once again, ready to take on the challenge that the Indian cricket team is going to produce over the next one month or so in the promisingly intense five-match series.
That said, all eyes will be on the battle between one of the world’s best batsmen in Kohli against arguably the best fast bowler in the world right now. These are the two top drawer players who are absolutely belligerent and impeccable in what they do — they leave very little room for the word called imperfection.
In 2014, Anderson exposed the chinks in Kohli’s armour by dismissing him far too many times against the moving ball, to have him leave the English shores with an embarrassing batting average of 13.40.
But Kohli returned in 2018 with vengeance and his mind and technique updated, as he amassed 593 runs in five Test matches, which included three half-centuries and two centuries, and most importantly, he did not fall to Anderson even once. If that Kohli shows up once again in the upcoming series, not only will Anderson have a battle in his hands but the series will also intensify many folds.
England’s bowling attack is one of the best
It would be unfair to see the quintessential Anderson as the cynosure of the English fast bowling attack. Stuart Broad has taken more than 500 wickets himself in Test cricket, and even if Archer is not involved in the first two Test matches, he will be expected to return for the later part of the series at some point and have a say.
Along with Anderson and Broad, England also have the very dangerous Sam Curran who proved to be the throne in India’s flesh in the 2018 series. India coach Ravi Shastri declared Curran to be the difference between the two teams as his side was outgunned by the young England all-rounder more often than not.
The rise of Ollie Robinson, forgetting what has happened around the young England player in the recent times related to the backdated tweets’ case, is certainly promising for the home team. In conditions where seam bowlers tend to thrive by putting the ball in the right areas and making it move at speeds in variation of 130 kmph, Robinson has certainly added more to the English bowling attack.
England also have two very potent spinners in Jack Leach and Dom Bess, who have been a vital part of this bowling attack. Also in the mix is the express paceman in Mark Wood, as he completes this extremely talented and capable England bowling attack in conditions that would be in play.