India favourites to beat England, Virat Kohli will do well: Wasim Jaffer

Retired Test opener Wasim Jaffer believes that Virat Kohli  will put behind him the memories of a dismal Test series in England four years ago and that India  are favourites going into the five-match series starting August 1in Birmingham.

Jaffer, who was part of the drawn Test series in England in 2002 and the landmark series win in 2007, in which he scored 185 runs in three matches, called on Kohli to play the ball as late as possible in bowler-friendly conditions.

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“I am sure Virat Kohli will succeed in England this time — he’s far too good a player to fail here again. Since that tour in 2014, he’s played all over the world and done brilliantly. The only thing he needs to be careful about is that he needs to play the ball late, and close to his body,” wrote Jaffer in today’s Times of India. “He shouldn’t play the ball away from his body, something which you can afford to do in India once you’re set. In England, the ball moves around even after you’re set, so he should avoid those expansive drives.”

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India are ranked No 1 in Tests, but their success has been largely at home apart from consecutive series wins in Sri Lanka and one in the West Indies. In their most recent overseas tour, to South Africa at the start of the year, they lost 1-2. England, ranked fifth, have not won their last three Test series and Jaffer thus put Kohli’s team ahead.

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“I would say that India are the favourites going into this series, but they’ll have to play smart cricket. They have all the ammunition to beat England,” he wrote. “The hosts didn’t do well at the start of the season against Pakistan, and are under pressure. In bowling, they depend too much on James Anderson and Stuart Broad. If both struggle, they don’t have another ‘go to’ bowler. Unlike in the past, where they had a Monty Panesar or a Graeme Swann, they don’t have a quality spinner to trouble the Indians. Unlike a three-Test series, a five-Test series allows a team time to come back, but I think India can surprise everyone if they gain early momentum.”

Of India’s main batsmen, Kohli (68), Murali Vijay (53), KL Rahul  (58) and Dinesh Karthik (828) scored half-centuries on day one of the tour game against Essex, while Shikhar Dhawan was out first ball, Cheteshwar Pujara made 1 and Ajinkya Rahane 17. Jaffer wondered whether Pujara, who earlier this season struggled for form in county cricket, would get the chop come August 1.

“I was a bit surprised to see Cheteshwar Pujara struggle to score runs in county cricket this season. I’ve a feeling that he’ll be left out of the first Test, where India might choose to go in with all the three openers — Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul,” wrote Jaffer, who played 31 Tests for India as an opener from 2000-08.

“I’m very happy for Karthik, who was my opening partner in that 2007 tour. If he gets runs, then India will get a valuable batsman at No. 6. Having been an opener, he knows how to play the second new ball. I hope he grabs this opportunity. Apart from him, I expect Hardik Pandya  to play a very, very important role. If he stays fit, he can play the role of a third seamer and a destructive No. 7 bat. He just has to keep calm and avoid making the kind of silly mistakes that he made in South Africa last winter.”