Top-ranked India will look to settle old scores against struggling England when the first Test of a five-match series begins in Rajkot on Wednesday. While England have failed to win big games this year, especially against Pakistan and Bangladesh, India on the other hand, are on a roll.
England were the last team to win a Test series on Indian soil when they came from behind to triumph 2-1 in 2012, but the upcoming series against Virat Kohli and co. will be very different.
Speaking about the hosts first, India are currently enjoying an impressive run. After some fantastic performances in West Indies Test series, which India won 2-0, Kohli and his boys made light work of Kane Williamson-led New Zealand and clean-swept them 3-0. The 3-0 drubbing not only extended their winning run at home, but also gave them No.1 Test status.
Kohli has led the team from the front, scoring two double centuries this year and guiding India to four series wins in a row since taking over the captaincy in 2015. India’s appetite for revenge has also been bolstered by the recent dazzling form of off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who became the second quickest bowler to reach 200 wickets during the series against Kiwis.
As for Alastair Cook’s England, things have become a tad too difficult for them after enduring a shock defeat at the hands of Bangladesh in the second Test recently. From being in a commanding position, England lost 10 wickets inside a session as Mushfiqur Rahim’s men registered their first ever historic Test win against them.
The second Test against Bangladesh reminded the visitors of their of shortcomings in their own spinning department but Cook is adamant that Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali and newbie Zafar Ansari are capable of delivering in the spin-friendly Indian tracks. They have also brought back 39-year-old Gareth Batty to strengthen their spin-attack.
Also a matter of fact is England have enjoyed tremendous success against India in the past five years, winning nine out of 13 Tests played. The only worry is their recent form as skipper Cook has only one century last year, while Joe Root has failed to deliver the goods since getting promoted to number three.
The likes of James Vince, Alex Hales and Nick Compton will look to come strong against India, while expectations will be high from wicket-keeper batsman Jonny Bairstow. Gary Ballance’s poor run against Bangladesh could see him get replaced with Jos Buttler, while Ben Duckett’s gritty batting earns him another call against mighty Indians.
The tourists were given a big blow when the team’s all-time leading wicket-taker James Anderson was ruled out of first Test. Anderson, who has although recovered from the shoulder injury, is not deemed fit to feature, meaning Ben Stokes for his all-round abilities will be crucial to the team.
India will also miss openers Shikhar Dhawan and Lokesh Rahul due to injury and the selectors are looking for new combinations. Gautam Gambhir, who scored a second innings fifty in his comeback Indore Test, is likely to open, alongside Murali Vijay. It will be interesting to see how coach Anil Kumble and Kohli approach the first Test. There is a dilemma in selection between Karun Nair and Hardik Pandya, and chances are likely for the former to get his first Test cap.
Also, the decision review system (DRS) which India have agreed to use for the first time on a trial basis after ignoring it for so long could be a big call.
India go as overwhelming favourites but England will have all their hopes pinned on Cook, Root and spinners. If they click, it will be an engaging battle at Rajkot.
India: Virat Kohli (C), Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Gautam Gambhir, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Jayant Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Umesh Yadav, Karun Nair, Amit Mishra, Wriddhiman Saha and Cheteshwar Pujara.
England: Alastair Cook (C), Moeen Ali, Gary Ballance, Gareth Batty, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler, Zafar Ansari, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Ben Duckett, Steven Finn, Haseeb Hameed, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes.