Preview: England vs India Test series 2018
English summer is the ideal time to play Test cricket; different conditions here change the course of the match, similar to the double-edged sword. Muggy sort of day brings with it the scare of rusty fast bowlers; wind let the bowl to swing in the air and off the pitch; rain add more adversity for the batters. Finally, Sun comes out to escort them; with bright sunshine, the track becomes the batting paradise and as the time pass on spinners gets their share as well.
Talking about summers in England, this time its India who will have to bear the brunt of English condition. From the outset, contest looks even. Having said that, England does have an edge over India, given the favourability of the home conditions. Though this Test series is wide open and the Pataudi trophy is there for the taking for either of the team. And there is a reason why pundits are considering this as an even contest.
Team India is playing with injuries and one of the major concerns is regarding the selection of spin bowler in the playing XI. With the heat wave going around in some parts of England we can expect the pitch to be dry and the call might be taken after assessing the conditions. There is muddle around in England camp as well. Who will open with Alastair Cook? And it looks like the under-performer Keaton Jennings will have another go at it. The Broads and the Andersons are not getting any younger! Who will be the third seamer and will Rashid make his mark in Test arena?
Bowlers will have to raise their game
This is a long series of five Test matches and it will take its toll on players; there will be tired bowlers. There will be a few niggles and injuries. Setback for India is that Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah are likely to miss the first three Tests due to injury.
Yes, Mohammed Shami is back and he is one of the most talented fast bowlers going around in India. He can produce that one magical spell that can change the course of the innings, but he is a bit of a 'blow hot and cold' kind of bowler, that worries the team. Ishant with his patience, bowls economical spells and keeps the one end tight.
When it comes to selecting the spin bowlers — and that too in England — keeping the conditions and strengths of the opposition in mind, it is difficult to choose, especially when everybody is doing well. It's like catch-22 situation. Also the fact to keep in mind is that, Ashwin and Jadeja are in the side for their bowling, not batting.
The feeling is that Ashwin and Jadeja should be the first pick over Kuldeep Yadav. Mind you, there is no doubt that he troubled every English batsman and they had 'Kuldeep-sized' problem in limited overs game. But the wickets came because there was a pressure of scoring runs. In Test matches, it gets out of the equation and batsmen can afford to go through his overs quietly without taking any risk at all. And that is when in trying to prove himself, the temptation to do something different will come into play. Resulting in loose deliveries that will allow the batsman to cut loose. Whereas Jadeja bowls with the same intense whether it's his first over or the 25th. You can hardly spot the difference.
Stumpers and slips
'Catches wins you matches', is the mantra to behold and especially in England where slip catching is an integral part of the game. After Rahul David — the best slip catcher — it got worse and even dollies were dropped, just because unlike wicket-keeper they don't expect every ball to come to them.
Role of the wicket-keeper overseas become vital, especially, England is the toughest place to keep wickets. Sorry to say but Wriddhiman Saha is the only standout wicket keeper for Test matches that India has. Now, again he has been ruled out because of the injury and its a huge loss for India. We should not follow the trend of selecting the keeper just because he bats well. For an instance, Dinesh Karthik can put up runs with the bat, though if he drops catches, his runs account for less.
Corridor of uncertainty
Taking 20 wickets is essential, even more than putting up a good total is. In past tours, Vijay, Rahane and Virat himself were the only players to score runs overseas. Albeit, Rahane is out of touch from the last year or so and he had flown under a radar. Dhawan and Pujara didn't do well and were in and out of the side. Make no mistake, India's batting revolves around Virat Kohli and in this circumstances, KL Rahul can effectively support Virat in batting.
That fifth stump line - the corridor of uncertainty - is the dangerous line to play and Virat got out several times fishing outside the off stump line. It remains to be seen whether he has worked on his shortcomings from the previous tour or not.
Having said everything, this Indian team under the leadership of Virat Kohli can challenge the might of England in their own backyard. India being the number one Test side, should raise their game.
First Test at Edgbaston will set the tone for the series.