In-form India start England Test series as favourites (Preview)
Rajkot, Nov 8 (IANS) Visitors England will have their task cut out for them against the in-form No.1 Test side India in the first match of a five-game series, beginning at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium here on Wednesday.
England's two-test series in Bangladesh was testament to their drop in form and also the fact that their batsmen are not equipped to tackle a relentless spin threat on turning tracks which they will also get in India.
Alastair Cook's wards though will take heart from their success in the 2012 series where they rallied back wonderfully to win the four-match series 2-1 despite losing the first Test to India.
England beat hosts Bangladesh in the first Test in Chittagong but hardly looked convincing.
They were then humbled in the second match, losing by 10 wickets allowing the hosts to level the two match series 1-1. The series, more importantly, exposed their frailties against spinners on turning strips.
India on the other hand have not lost a Test at home since losing the 2012 series to England, blanking Australia and the West Indies, crushing South Africa and more recently whitewashing New Zealand in September.
Cook, who has hinted this five-Test series could be his last, has acknowledged the monumental task that lies ahead of them saying, "It's a huge challenge to these guys who have not played a huge amount of cricket in the subcontinent as a group."
The 31-year-old will break Michael Atherton's record of 54 Tests as captain during the first match against India.
England's woes against spin were laid bare by teenage Bangladeshi off-spinner Mehedi Hasan who accounted for 19 wickets in his debut series, rattling the visitors in the process.
As many as 38 of the 40 English wickets, in the two Tests were taken by slow bowlers.
England will have to encounter arguably the world's best off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin in his home conditions, who has taken 58 wickets in India's last seven home matches against South Africa and New Zealand.
How England play Ashwin will determine the fate of the series. Not only Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and the in-form Amit Mishra will also test England to their limit.
One good news for England has been the prospect of pace spearhead James Anderson returning earlier than expected from a shoulder injury. But going by former India captain Sourav Ganguly, he won't be the game-changer.
"I wouldn't play him (Anderson) in India to be honest," Ganguly told ESPNcricinfo on Tuesday.
"It's not the same Anderson as 2012. I saw him in the Test series in England recently. He has lost a bit of pace."
"And I think Stuart Broad and Steven Finn and Ben Stokes (will be more effective) because you will need a bit of pace in these conditions to get that ball to reverse. So I don't know whether he will make the side when he comes back. Not in Vizag (Visakhapatnam) where the ball will turn square," he added.
The visitors, however, have a top class fast bowling attack led by Stuart Broad and will have the tall Steven Finn, Chris Woakes and all-rounder Ben Stokes to fall back on depending on the combination they choose to field in the playing eleven.
The spin department though is thin on experience with Moeen Ali, Gareth Batty, Zafar Ansari or Adil Rashid not knowing the subcontinent conditions well.
Coming to India's batting, captain Virat Kohli will be keen to improve his far from impressive record against the visitors.
Kohli, who recently celebrated his 28th birthday, is expected to lead the way in batting along with Rahane and the likes of Murali Vijay, the recalled Gautam Gambhir and Cheteshwar Pujara, the team's leading scorer against New Zealand, who will be playing in his home town in Rajkot.
Because of an injury to Rohit Sharma in the One-Day series against New Zealand, either Karnataka batsman Karun Nair or Baroda all-rounder Hardik Pandya appear set to make a Test debut.
This will also be the first Test series in India where the Decision Review System (DRS), which the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has consistently opposed, will be used.
India: Virat Kohli (Captain), Murali Vijay, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (Vice Captain), Ravichandran Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha (Wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Karun Nair, Jayant Yadav.
England: Alastair Cook (Captain), Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Gareth Batty, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler, Ben Duckett, Steven Finn, Haseeb Hameed, Moeen Ali, Zafar Ansari, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes.