Amidst much anticipation, the Test series between India and England will get underway at Edgbaston from August 1. Edgbaston has been England’s favourite hunting ground over time: indeed, their win-loss ratio of 3.375 at the ground is significantly better than anywhere else. India, on the other hand, have a terrible record here, with one draw (in a dead rubber) and five defeats from six outings. Whichever way you look at it, history stands overwhelmingly in England’s favour.
Virat Kohli‘s Indian side, however, need not bother about all that. Only one member of the side that was trounced at the ground in 2011 features in the squad, and that man — Ishant Sharma — will play at Edgbaston, but he would not have, had Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah been fit for the Test.
Mohammed Shami, having cleared the Yo-Yo test, will spearhead the Indian attack in the absence of Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah. Shami will have to play a major role if India step out to challenge history. Ishant, his is likely new-ball partner, has played four matches for Sussex this season. He adapted well, pitching the ball up more than usual, and had 15 wickets at a superb average of 23 — not to speak of his maiden First-Class fifty!
Virat Kohli insists on five bowlers, which will make Hardik Pandya a definite starter. Given the heatwave in the UK this summer, the Edgbaston pitch may not be as moist as English pitches typically are — though it is unlikely to turn square. However, it must be remembered that England have included both Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid in the squad.
If India pick one spinner it is likely to be Ravichandran Ashwin. Kuldeep Yadav has been fantastic this summer, but two things must be remembered here: first, England read Kuldeep much better in the third ODI; and secondly, when it comes to bowling long spells in unhelpful conditions, Kuldeep has hardly been tested.
The fifth bowler’s spot will, thus, be a toss-up between the Yadavs, Kuldeep and Umesh, depending on the surface. Ravindra Jadeja will miss out on a spot.
Who will bat around Virat Kohli? Ajinkya Rahane has not been in great form (28.50 across 16 Tests since the start of the 2016-17 home series against England). He did score a hundred last time here, at Lord’s, but if one takes that innings away he averaged below 25. Even then, he is probably a better bet than most others.
Barring Kohli, KL Rahul is perhaps the only automatic selection in the top five. Murali Vijay had failed against England A but redeemed himself somewhat with a fifty against Essex. He will open with Rahul.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Shikhar Dhawan, poor travellers both, are likely to compete for the other spot in the top three — provided India do not include both Rishabh Pant and Dinesh Karthik. Pujara may still win the battle, but the selectors may eventually run out of patience.
India likely XI for first Test: Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav/Kuldeep Yadav.
Despite being the better team on paper, England have problems of their own. Over years, the selectors have failed to plug three holes in the top order, with Alastair Cook and Joe Root being the only certainties. Even then, no England batsman has more than two hundreds to his name since the beginning of 2017, and that is a number that is going to hurt them.
In Root’s case it is even more frustrating, for he has crossed fifty 15 times. Cook has converted both his hundreds count into marathon double-hundreds, but he really needs to deliver more frequently, more so as Keaton Jennings and Dawid Malan, the other two names in the top four, are not the most formidable batsmen in the world.
Jos Buttler’s stupendous form earned him a Test comeback against Pakistan earlier this summer. He did well, even earning the Player of the Match award at Headingley. He, along with Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes, will form a middle-order that looks more dangerous than the top-order.
One of England’s woes have been the lack of a consistent third pacer to back James Anderson and Stuart Broad. One of Sam Curran and Jamie Porter is likely to win the lottery — unless they prepare a turning track and play both Moeen and Rashid. If not, Curran will probably get a nod ahead of Porter. He looked decent in his only Test so far, at Headingley against Pakistan.
England likely XI for first Test: Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings, Joe Root (c), Dawid Malan, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Sam Curran, Stuart Broad, James Anderson.
Predictions: As mentioned above, England will take field as favourites, more so because India will be without two frontline seamers. Everything points at England at this stage. The onus will be on Kohli to shrug off the memories of 2014 and rise to the challenge with bat. It will be very, very difficult for India otherwise.
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