Testing times as England gear up to face India
Huge challenges lie ahead for Joe Root’s England against a dominant India team. Billy Densham takes a look at the key talking points for the series.
England start their four match Test series in India at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Friday, with the series being the first since the 2005 Ashes series to be shown on terrestrial TV. The match will be played behind closed doors and the players are operating in secure COVID bubbles. India undoubtedly come into the series as favourites, full of confidence on the back of a second consecutive series win in Australia. Joe Root’s team though, will be buoyed by their performances in the recent series against Sri Lanka but may not have enough to stand up to the stern challenges the in-form Indian side present.
Captain Virat Kohli re-joins the India team after the birth of his son whilst Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah return from injury to bolster the host’s pace bowling options. For England, Jonny Bairstow, a stand-out performer with the bat on the subcontinent, returns home along with Mark Wood and Sam Curran. Jofra Archer, Rory Burns and Ben Stokes join the England bubble and will be hoping to make an impact on this series.
Channel 4 has the rights to the television coverage, signalling a new dawn for free to air cricket broadcasting. India come in on the back of an extraordinary win in Australia that made the cricketing world stand up and take notice of their prowess at test level. England will have their work cut out and will have to play extremely well to appease the England supporters that decide to set their alarms for 4am every morning.
England’s Spin Attack
After taking all 10 wickets in the final match against Sri Lanka, Somerset spinners Dom Bess and Jack Leach are expected to start for England in Chennai. As always in the subcontinent, spin will most likely play a huge role in determining a victor. Jack Leach performed well as third choice spinner in England’s most recent tour of India, however there are questions over the proficiency of England’s inexperienced spin attack this time round. This inexperience has also been affected by Moeen Ali testing positive for COVID on arrival in Sri Lanka and not playing in the series, although he has since recovered. A lack of game time and training for Moeen puts Leach and Bess as favourites to start the first test. It is crucial that Leach and Bess bowl with control in hot and humid conditions, particularly in the first innings when the ball does not turn as much. They must then be able to take the majority of the wickets as the pitch deteriorates. The Taunton pair have showed that they have ability, but they cannot rely on the likes of Anderson and Broad to control the run rate and take wickets. If they can bowl as a pair with consistency and control, they have the ability to make England’s job against a world class Indian batting unit a bit more manageable.
Whilst India will be pleased by the return of their captain and two of their front-line seamers, they will be without left arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja. Jadeja has undergone surgery having dislocated his thumb while batting in Australia. This is a huge blow for India; Jadeja is a world class operator and would have fancied his chances against an inexperienced England batting line-up. Joe Root aside, England’s batsmen struggled against Lasith Embuldeniya, a fellow left arm spinner, in the series against Sri Lanka. Jadeja poses an even more potent threat than Embuldeniya. His absence means that the likes of Lawrence and Sibley will breathe a sigh of relief before heading out to bat. Jadeja is expected to miss at least the first two tests. The Indians do still have a world class spinner in their ranks, Ravichandran Ashwin has a career bowling average of 25.5 and will no doubt have an impact on the series. India also showed in Australia that they have excellent strength in depth, perhaps not surprising for a nation with 3 million registered players. Once dominated by spin, this Indian bowling attack poses threats across the board. Losing Jadeja may be a blow for India, but England will still have their work cut out against a spectacular bowling attack.
Kohli vs Rahane
There is a strange pressure on captain Virat Kohli going into this test series. Though considered by many to be the best batsman in the world, his captaincy will come under scrutiny from his adoring Indian fans. Ajinkya Rahane replaced Kohli after the first match of their recent series in Australia as Kohli returned home for the birth of his son, with Rahane leading the Indians to an impressive series win after they had lost the opening test under Kohli’s leadership. Virat Kohli does not hold back when it comes to emotion. He is highly passionate and fiery on the field, perhaps why the Indian public are so doting of him. Rahane however, swapped intensity for mindful and unhurried captaincy. The distinctive difference in leadership styles, coupled with Rahane’s success puts pressure on Kohli and his vehement style of captaincy to prevail in this series. There could be discontent within the Indian bubble as a result of the opposing styles amongst the teams main leaders. Kohli, India’s sweetheart and hero, has some critics to prove wrong.