England host India in a much anticipated five-Test series which begins at Trent Bridge on Wednesday 4 August. The Indian summer then heads to Lord’s, Headingley, The Oval and reaches a potentially thrilling conclusion at Old Trafford in mid-September. It could be a thrilling see-saw of a series.
A wonderful series in store
Joe Root’s side were defeated 3-1 on Indian soil at the beginning of the year and will be hoping to gain revenge in friendlier home conditions.
This series heralds the start of the second incarnation of the World Test Championship and provides both nations with the opportunity to gain an early advantage against a side that will also be in contention. With England then heading Down Under for their next Test series this winter a good start seems essential if they are to make their first WTC final at the end of the four-year cycle.
But that is enough chat about The Ashes as this summer’s contest is set to be a thriller and the all-too-common narrative that suggests Indians is an aperitif for the trip Down Under is both disrespectful to a hugely talented Indian side and underplays a series that promises to be even better than the one that follows for England in Australia.
England still have more questions than answers in Tests
There is no doubt England will need to be at their best if they are to avoid their first home defeat to a touring Indian side since 2007.
England’s good home record has often been gained by a strong bowling attack managing to prop up an often-shaky batting order. The 1-0 defeat to New Zealand at the start of the summer ended England’s seven-year unbeaten series run at home and their batting weaknesses were exposed by the Kiwis.
Joe Root aside, the best of the rest in the XI is Rory Burns who averages a modest 33.23. Dom Sibley is stubborn but hit or miss and Zak Crawley is undoubtedly talented but appears to be dining out on a top score of 267 against Pakistan with only four other fifties in his other 23 innings. Crawley starts the summer under serious pressure having scored only 123 runs since that double ton at an average of 10.25 in that period. The recalled Haseeb Hameed, having returned to form after a move to Nottinghamshire, could start the series ahead of Crawley.
The absence of all-rounder Ben Stokes, who has taken an indefinite break from the sport to “prioritise his mental well-being”, sees England without their best player. Stokes is a match-winner with bat or ball and adds a very important balance to the side. He is someone the Indians would have rightly feared.
Without Stokes, at no.5 there is a danger that the fragile top three of Burns, Sibley, and Crawley could be further exposed and head coach Chris Silverwood might be tempted to go in without a specialist spinner, which would be a gamble.
England are without the injured Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes, but the evergreen Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad will be a major threat to an Indian top-order that doesn’t always play the moving ball well. It seems likely that all-rounders Sam Curran and Ollie Robinson will be tasked with making up for the loss of Ben Stokes. And fast bowler Mark Wood never lets his country down.
A period that will define Joe Root’s captaincy
If Joe Root captains throughout the India series and the Ashes he will have become the most capped England Test captain of all time. Under his leadership, England have won 50% of the 52 matches he has led them through, which stands favourably against most of his predecessors. But a home win against India and an away Ashes success would cement his legacy. Defeats in both could be the end of his tenure, either by order from above or by his own decision.
There is no doubt Root has grown as England captain, but how will he be remembered by the history books? We will find out over the next six months.
Kohli’s India are improving all of the time
Virat Kohli has led from the front as India captain since January 2017. He has changed the culture of Team India and challenged them to work as hard and be as fit as he is. Virat sets very high standards.
India had risen to the top of the ICC Test rankings, only to be deposed by New Zealand recently when they lost the recent WTC Final. They had become known as a team that was almost impossible to beat in the sub-continent and struggled on away tours, but times are a-changing.
There was always the caveat that their win in Australia in 2018/19 came when Steve Smith and David Warner were banned, but with captain Kohli on paternity leave and a whole host of their strongest XI injured, Ajinkya Rahane stepped up and led India to a dramatic and victorious series comeback success. Win those kinds of series and you can envisage winning anything.
India won a three-test series in 2007 by a 1-0 margin but have lost their last two trips to England 4-0 and 4-1. With Kohli’s professionalism and a much-improved pace attack led by Jasprit Bumrah, India comes to England genuinely believing they can win this time around.
Captain Kohli’s form is pivotal
Kohli leads with his heart on his sleeve. He is aggressive, passionate and despite flaws in his captaincy and the odd display of petulance, has an experienced brain’s trust in Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane to lean on. The overall Kohli package is exceptional.
When India last visited England in 2018 they lost 4-1, but there were close matches and the scoreline flattered England. Whereas India struggled against the moving ball, Kohli showed his ability to learn from his earlier failures in England to score 593 runs in the series.
The global pandemic and the birth of his daughter have robbed Kohli of his usual form. Since the start of 2020, he has batted 14 times scoring 345 runs at an average of 24.64 (less than half his career average of 52.04 in 92 Tests).
Like his opposite number, Kohli enters the series knowing his runs are vital and that a series win in England is one of the final frontiers for his Indian side to conquer.
Do you bet on the fast bowlers?
When examining who might take the most wickets in the series be careful. All 25 potential days of the series are crammed into a 42-day period and in biosecure environments, it is likely that both sides will rotate their pace attack. So, don’t assume that your pace bowler pick will play all five Tests.
Who wins the series?
England starts as favorites at home, but this is a tough India and a fallible England. With the tourists at 31/10 to claim their first series win in England for 14 years, they provide the betting value.