England and India are set to lock horns as they face each other in the first Test of an eagerly anticipated series at Edgbaston on Wednesday.
India currently lead the Test rankings by quite a distance but this tour should prove the ultimate challenge. England, for all their problems, haven’t lost a Test series at home since 2014 (vs Sri Lanka) and remain a side with bright, if inconsistent talent. It is a factor that makes this series so exciting and one that could live up the high profile build-up and anticipation.
Despite India being the no. 1 Test team, much of their success has come at home and their last series outside the subcontinent resulted in a 2-1 defeat in South Africa. Consequently, doubts remain about their ability to consistently perform in all conditions but victories such as the third Test (albeit consolation) triumph in Johannesburg against the Proteas proved that achieving success outside their own conditions is possible.
Yet, questions still remain about how this India side will line up. Shikhar Dhawan’s place as Murali Vijay’s opening partner is uncertain after a poor start to the tour, while it remains unknown where the talented KL Rahul will bat (top order with Vijay or at number six). In addition, the usually reliable Cheteshwar Pujara is suffering from poor form, plus their first choice wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha is out of the series with a shoulder injury. What they do have, however, is the world-class talent of Virat Kohli and a bowling attack more than capable of causing the home side problems.
For England, this series is a chance to prove that they can be consistent as a side. They have failed to string two Tests wins in a row since facing South Africa last summer and pressure is mounting after just one win in their last nine Tests. The talent is clearly there, bolstered by the return of Jos Buttler at number seven, yet the application and mental fortitude are still yet to be seen under head coach Trevor Bayliss. Joe Root and his men will be determined to turn that around.
Watch Out For:
It has been the fiery discussion that has dominated the past week in the build up to the start of this series – where England right to pick Rashid after he turned his back on red ball cricket earlier this year? Whether it was right or wrong to pick a player under such circumstances will be a debate that lingers on for a while, yet no one can doubt the form of the leg-spinner in white ball cricket, which has been pivotal to England turning back to him in Tests.
Amidst his attitude to the longer formate, Rashid offers a handy threat for England in the spin department with his plethora of varieties and wicket tacking ability, especially when facing the tail enders. And what’s likely to be a turning pitch at Edgbaston, all eyes will be on Rashid to see whether all the fuss surrounding his selection is really worth it.
Kohli is a man who has dominated most bowling attacks in the world and has fully earned his reputation as one of the finest batsmen around through his success both home and away. However, his Test record in England remains the one black mark against his name and the pressure for him to deliver in what is expected to be a variety of conditions during this series.
Nonetheless, Kohli and many others are adamant that he is a more complete player now than he was on his last tour of England in 2014, where he made just 134 runs at 13.4. Much of India’s batting hopes depend on him and how the captain combats the threat of James Anderson and Stuart Broad could be key to how this series pans out.
England confirmed their XI on Tuesday, with Rashid earning his first Test call up in nearly two years. Elsewhere, Ben Stokes is fit to play at no.6 while Sam Curran retains his spot as the third seamer ahead of Jamie Porter.
- Alastair Cook
- Keaton Jennings
- Joe Root (c)
- Dawid Malan
- Jonny Bairstow (wk)
- Ben Stokes
- Jos Buttler
- Sam Curran
- Adil Rashid
- Stuart Broad
- James Anderson
India are yet to name their side and face several selection dilemmas. Firstly, uncertainty remains over Murali Vijay’s opening partner, as well as who will bat at no.6, although KL Rahul is favourite to fill in one of those two positions. In addition, India are likely to play five bowlers but the personnel remains unsure. Mohammad Shami is likely to battle it out with Ishant Sharma for the third seamer’s slot.
- Murali Vijay
- Shikhar Dhawan/KL Rahul
- Cheteshwar Pujara
- Virat Kohli (c)
- Ajinkya Rahane
- Dinesh Karthik/KL Rahul/Rishabh Pant (wk)
- Hardik Pandya
- Ravichandran Ashwin
- Mohammed Shami/Ishant Sharma
- Umesh Yadav
- Kuldeep Yadav