LEEDS, ENGLAND - JUNE 02: England batsmen Joe Root and Dominic Bess come out to bat during day twoof the second Test Match between England and Pakistan at Headingley on June 2, 2018 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Five Key Talking Points Ahead of England v India Test Series

England and India have locked horns in several thrilling limited overs contests on unusually dusty pitches during this month’s unprecedented heatwave. Fans that have braved the furnace-like conditions have been rewarded with some exciting, frenetic action, dominated by power hitting, bold decision making, devilish spinning and risk-taking. India prevailed in a gripping T20 series, before England cemented their status as the world’s best ODI team by securing a comfortable series victory over Virat Kohli’s men. Now it is time for red ball cricket to come to the fore and proponents of the longer form are desperate for these two heavyweights to provide a captivating spectacle. Here are five key talking points ahead of an eagerly anticipated contest:

Can England and India remind everyone why Test cricket is so special?

Red ball cricket is no longer the pinnacle for several players and the brightest English talents of this generation are specialising in limited overs. The ODI team is stacked with world class batsmen, including Jason Roy, Jos Buttler and Eoin Morgan, yet the Test side can barely cobble together a top six. Adil Rashid and Alex Hales have decided to focus solely on white-ball cricket, and to devastating effect, while Morgan no longer bothers with Test cricket. England’s ODI team is comfortably top of the world rankings, but the Test side is a mess. They have secured just one win in their past nine Tests and they are still smarting from their Ashes humiliation.
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For Indian bowler Bishan Bedi, the diminishing status of Test cricket is a travesty. “I hope and wish that Test cricket doesn’t die while I’m still alive,” he said. “It must flourish, it has to flourish to keep cricket alive. The game of cricket must not lose out on its character. Can you imagine any other sport doing what cricket has done? People don’t have time to play golf so they cut it down from 18 holes to three holes. It wouldn’t happen. It wouldn’t happen in football either, or any other sport. The basic character of cricket is that it’s played leisurely over five days, not bloody 20 overs or 100 balls, which is even more ridiculous. We need England and India to remind the world just why Test cricket is so special.”

Will the conditions favour India?

The matches in this series will be played over five days under the sweltering English sun. The country is experiencing its hottest, driest summer on record and people have been urged to stay indoors. Brits are wilting in the heat, but this is simply business as usual for the visitors, who are used to far less hospitable conditions back home. The Indians will hope the weather stays like it has been, as their spinners should relish the surfaces as the wickets will be on the drier side. If you check out the cricket spread betting you will see that England are the favourites to secure victory in the first Test and wrap up a series victory. However, their recent form and the dusty conditions may inspire many punters to back the visitors to prevail.

Should Keaton Jennings be opening the batting alongside Alastair Cook?

England began the summer with Mark Stoneman alongside Cook, but he was so poor in the first Test against Pakistan that Jennings was recalled to the side. He hit 29 in the second match in Leeds, and generally looked solid at the crease, but huge question marks still linger over the Lancashire batsman. Last year, he was dismissed three times in just 41 balls against South Africa, and that led to him being dropped for Stoneman in the first place. It all points to a real weakness in the England team, particularly in comparison to the embarrassment of riches Morgan can count on for the ODI side. Another option would be Rory Burns, who has hit centuries galore for Surrey and is knocking on the door.

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Will Ravi Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav rip through a vulnerable batting line-up?

Yadav was magnificent in the T20 and ODI series against England and it will be fascinating to see how he gets on in the Tests. Ashwin is another dangerous spinner, and they could both experience a lot of joy on the dry, dusty English pitches this summer. Former skipper Mohammad Azharuddin believes India should go with both of them, as they could tilt this series in the visitors’ favour. “If it’s a green pitch then they may go with 4-1, but I think 3-2 will be a better combination if you want to win,” he said. “Because, later the pitches will get dry. It will be hot and the pitches would offer turn especially on the last two days.”

Is Joe Root’s best position at number three?

Captain Root has been up and down the order in recent times as England have searched for a winning line-up. Gary Ballance, Tom Westley and James Vince had all failed to establish themselves at number three post-Jonathan Trott, and Root stepped up to the challenge earlier this year. Playing at three gives him an opportunity to take on more responsibility at the top of the order, but he is yet to convince there. He has actually looked a lot more exciting when opening for the ODI team, freed of the pressure and responsibility of being captain, and some feel he could enjoy a more expansive game at number four for his Test side, and be more influential there. This debate looks set to rumble on.

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