Five Tests in the next six weeks will test England’s character as severely as India’s.
Just under three years ago, most of the talk was about milestones heading into India’s tour of England. The 2000th Test. The 100th Test between England and India. Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th international hundred. Duncan Fletcher’s 100th Test as coach. All of it at the traditional home of cricket. Cricket watchers besotted by statistics have driven themselves into frenzy over far less. To expect the quality of cricket to match the sense of occasion was fair, what with two of the world’s top sides vying for the No 1 ranking.
Instead, Zaheer Khan limped out of the series on the first day, and India’s ageing band of legendary batsmen – Rahul Dravid apart – followed him in spirit. MS Dhoni had entered the series having not lost a single one before. Four embarrassments later, two of them by an innings, he had presided over a winless overseas run that has extended to this day and has lasted 14 Tests.
Fortunately for the Indians, only five of that squad are on this trip. Virat Kohli and Wriddhiman Saha had no role on the field then, and Gautam Gambhir may not have a significant one this time. It is not in Dhoni’s nature to carry baggage – good or bad – around, and if Ishant Sharma can survive that bowling average after 55 Tests, he can survive anything.
It has been said before, but it is worth repeating before the start of this series. This is not the India side that suffered the humiliation of 0-8 in England and Australia, it is the side that came close to winning a Test on each of its first two tours to South Africa and New Zealand. In 2011, India averaged 255 over eight innings in England. In its first seven overseas innings, this team already averages nearly 325.
India may or may not have the ability to take 20 wickets, but they have the potential to put a decent score on the board, a total which it makes it difficult for the opposition to force a result. The previous Indian Test team achieved what it did partly because it had the batsmen who often made big runs under pressure, but they failed to collectively score in excess of 300 even once in England 2011. The current lot cannot possibly do worse. Given the way English pitches behaved recently against Sri Lanka, there is every chance they will do better. That in itself will make it a contest, unlike 2011.
As will the absence of several big names on the English side from last time – Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott, Andrew Strauss and Graeme Swann. The first of those names started the series in 2011 with an unbeaten 202 and ended with 175. England have started on the path of rebuilding after the Ashes whitewash and have found there will be plenty of heartburn along the way, as the series loss to Sri Lanka has shown. Just a fortnight later, five Tests in the next six weeks will test England’s character as severely as India’s. Zero-eight eventually ended a couple of big careers for India, and the loss at home to England in 2012 nudged a couple more towards their exit. There won’t be too many surprises if this one also claims a scalp or two.
In the spotlight
Amid apprehensions that the Indians could be blown away by Dale Steyn and co, Virat Kohli made a century so emphatic in his first innings in South Africa that Allan Donald was reminded of Sachin Tendulkar. He made 96 in the second, and while he was dominating in Auckland, the Indians threatened to hunt down 400-plus. He went on to make another hundred in Wellington. With 25 international centuries, Kohli has reached a stage where he is the team’s most prized wicket. If India intend to make a statement at the start of the series, Kohli is the man to do it.
Alastair Cook‘s position as England captain has never been under as much scrutiny. Cook, and for that matter any batsman, thrives on runs, and there is a case that runs will make the captaincy much more manageable. The runs have not been coming; Cook has gone 25 innings without a century. He averages 55-plus against India, though, and his highest score of 294 came against them in 2011. Friendly, familiar opposition could be Cook’s ticket to safety.
England had named Jos Buttler as wicketkeeping cover for Matt Prior, who experienced “mild tightness” in his right thigh two days before the Test but Cook later said that Prior was “almost certain” to play. They had earlier added allrounder Ben Stokes to the squad, and he is likely to come in for Chris Jordan, who went wicketless in the second Test against Sri Lanka.
England (possible): 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Sam Robson, 3 Gary Ballance, 4 Ian Bell, 5 Joe Root, 6 Moeen Ali, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Ben Stokes, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Liam Plunkett, 11 James Anderson
India had given indications that they could hand Stuart Binny a Test debut ahead of Rohit Sharma, which shows a rare intent to step out of their comfort zone in search for those elusive 20 wickets. This will, of course, make the batting thinner, with even more responsibility on Dhoni at No. 6. Bhuvneshwar Kumar could be playing his first overseas Test.
India (possible): 1 M Vijay, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 7 Stuart Binny, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Ishant Sharma
Pitch and conditions
This may be James Anderson’s favourite venue but the Trent Bridge curator does not want teams bowled out for 180. There will be bounce as the surface is hard but movement will depend on how much grass – dry and brown – is left on the pitch. The surface is hard but without much moisture beneath. As always in England, overhead conditions will play a key role. The first day is forecast to be cloudy, with some rain expected over the next four days.
Stats and trivia
- Among their six major Test venues, England have the poorest win-loss ratio at Trent Bridge.
- James Anderson has as many five-fors in seven Tests at Trent Bridge as he has in 46 matches in all other grounds in England together – six. For more stats on Trent Bridge, see this.
- India’s previous Test win in England came at Trent Bridge in 2007. Dhoni is the only remnant of that XI in this squad.
“If I compare between the first Test we played in South Africa and the last Test we played in New Zealand there has been considerable improvement. You know, it’s the right way of moving ahead.”
India captain MS Dhoni
“I think playing a domestic game as a warm-up is a very, very different thing to playing a Test match. Certainly Duncan Fletcher always viewed them as warm-ups – that’s how we did it when he was coach – so I wouldn’t read too much into what happened.”
England captain Alastair Cook is not lulled into a false sense of security seeing how India’s bowlers went in Derby and Leicester