Mumbai: India’s home season has begun on a very good note. India defeated New Zealand in the Test series 3-0 and then emerged victorious in the One Day International series by a close margin of 3-2. The result was on expected lines and men in blue did the needful. India are waiting for England for the five match Test series. The matches will be played at Rajkot, Vishakhapatnam, Mohali, Mumbai and Chennai. The series will be closely fought and the reigning No.1 side has their work cut out to take on the three lions and series will go down to the wire.
India announced their squad for the first two Test matches and there weren’t many surprises. Gautam Gambhir retained his place in the side due to injuries to Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay. Hardik Pandya was the surprise inclusion in the squad at the expense of injured Rohit Sharma. India would not like to tinker with their combination that won handsomely against the Kiwis. The team has problem of plenty and it is a good problem to have. India have many permutations and combinations and they will decide their team on the opposition and on the pitch.
England are coming on the back of an embarrassing drawn series against lowly ranked Bangladesh and will start series as underdogs. England have couple of marquee players in Alastair Cook and Joe Root and have a seriously game changing all rounder in Ben Stokes but there are too many passengers in the side. England have tried numerous openers since the retirement of former captain Andrew Strauss and they have not yet decided upon the partner for captain Cook. Bangladesh exploited England’s Achilles heel against spin and teenager Mehedi Hasan Miraz picked up astonishing 19 wickets in two Test match series. Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra would have watched the proceedings in Bangladesh closely and would surely fancy their chances against English players, who are low on confidence and have trouble facing quality spin over the years irrespective of surfaces.
England vs India in 2012 seems a long time back but it was an iconic and great series in terms of matches and the calibre of performances. Alastair Cook single handedly turned the sries on its head with centuries in Ahemdabad, Mumbai and Kolkata before getting couple of dodgy decisions in Nagpur. Kevin Pietersen played an outstanding and brilliant knock of 186 in Mumbai. The team had players such as Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Graeme Swann, Monty Panesar, James Andeerson and they all performed admirably and won their first series in India in over 28 years.
England have the talent but their side is awfully short on class and experience. Gareth Batty, Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Zafar Ansari would not give sleepless night to Indian batsman and they would be attacked from the word go and will be a liability rather than an asset. England would be hoping that Stuart Broad (100th Test at Rajkot), Cook (135 matches) would show the juniors way in how to conquer alien conditions. The team has players in Jonny Bairstow, Chris Woakes, who can turn the match and surprise the Indian team.
India has been struggling against England in recent past and it has been a bogey team for them. India last lost a Test series on home soil against England in 2012 and since then hasn’t lost a single Test on home soil. The team has gone 14 Test matches without a defeat. They defeated West Indies (2-0), Australia (4-0), South Africa (3-0) and New Zealand (3-0). India has handled the transition very well and players in the form of Murali Vijay, Virat Kohli, R Ashwin, R Jadeja, Ajinkya Rahane and Ishant Sharma have proved their mettle on international arena. R Ashwin has been going through a purple patch and would be rejuvenated after a well deserved rest. Kohli, Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara would like to fill their boots against an inexperienced English attack. India would be quietly confident going into the series and if they play to their potential then England will have an uphill task to beat blue brigade.
England have to play out of their skin and the battle between Broad vs Kohli, Root vs Ashwin, Cook vs Shami will determine the outcome of the series. England are a resilient side and in recent past have defeated Australia (home) and South Africa (away). Cook has broken all national records and knowing him he would leave no stone unturned in beating India in their own backyard against all odds and expectations and he would be telling his team mates to embrace the challenges and adverse conditions head on. Many pundits have written England off and the only way to answer them would be to do the unexpected and repeat the glory of 2012.
India vs England always throws up exciting matches and this series will be no different. Virat Kohli and Anil Kumble would like to carry the momentum and maintain their lead at the ICC rankings. Cook and Kohli both are steely characters and after the gruelling five match series we will know who rose to the challenge. May the best team win.