Beating India in India in a Test series has always been among cricket’s greatest challenges.
It is like cricket’s Mission Impossible especially in the last sixteen years as India has lost just one Test series on home soil (2011-12). Yes, England did manage to win two wins on that tour must be hailed as an exceptional accomplishment as only one more team (Australia) managed to beat India once (2017) in the last one decade (2011-2020) where India won 33 out of 44 Test matches played at home.
Of course, England can drive some comfort and encouragement from that fact as they were the last team to breach the fortress of the sub-continent. Besides, the recent form (won both their Tests against Sri Lanka last month) of England which includes five wins in a row for them overseas can’t be shrugged off easily by anyone even though playing in India is altogether a different battle.
How do you stop India?
India’s awe-inspiring win against all-odds in Australia recently after losing almost a first choice playing XI is enough to overwhelm any rival even before a ball could be bowled in the four match Test series which starts in Chennai from this Friday. And, if you are told that Indian captain is better than Don Bradman (average of 106.17 in India since 2018) in home conditions of late, and will be highly charged up to mark his authority as a batter and as a captain, it can overwhelm any team.
Another superstar of world cricket, Rohit Sharma may not have made most of his two Tests in Australia but gave enough evidence that technically he is perhaps the best test batsman in the world. And, in home conditions, Rohit has an average of 88.33 in 20 Tests. And, then there are the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Rishabh Pant in the middle-order and possibly the destructive Hardik Pandya as well.
Embarrassment of riches for India
Regardless of the nature of the pitch at the Chepauk, India is expected to go with three fast bowlers as has been the norm under Kohli’s reign. In that case, Jasprit Bumrah is all set to play his first Test at home (after playing 17 overseas!), while Ishant Sharma (after missing the Australia tour because of a side strain) is likely to enter the 300 Test wickets club (he has got 297 so far). Even if it’s a good headache for Kohli, it will be tough to ignore Mohammed Siraj (India's leading wicket-taker in Australia) for Shardul Thakur (superior batting ability) in the playing XI.
Whatever you do, we will do even better!
That was the loud message India gave to England when they toured last time. If scoring 400 plus runs while batting first almost saves a team from defeat which England successfully did on a couple of occasions, India simply scored 600 plus batting second as if it wasn’t a big deal at all. England fought admirably in that series and yet was trounced by 4-0!
Root’s memorable moment
England captain Joe Root will be playing his 100th Test in Chennai and it was not long ago he was spoken in the same breath of Kohli, Steven Smith and Kane Williamson among contemporary cricket’s finest. The England Test captain used the sweep shot to a great use and scored 426 runs in four innings in Sri Lanka just ahead of this series. The 30-year-old has a fine record in India in the past (584 runs in 12 innings at an average of 53.09). However, Root will carry a huge burden of responsibility on his shoulder since (despite the likes of Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler) there seems to be not enough fire-power in their batting (at least on paper) which can rival India’s batting unit.
And then there is a small matter of WTC
India is almost certain of playing the finale of World Test Championship which will be played at Lord’s in June as they are currently sitting at the top of the points table and will have to win at least two Tests and not lose more than one to ensure it remains that way only. However, for England, which always prioritizes Test cricket above all formats, it is a dream to play the WTC final at home. And to fulfil that dream, Root’s lads will have to win at least three Tests and not lose more than one. And, that again is another kind of Mission Impossible to achieve in India in 2021.
India: Shubman Gill, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wk), Kuldeep Yadav, R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Ishant Sharma.
England: Rory Burns, Dominic Sibley, Joe Root, Daniel Lawrence, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Jofra Archer, Jack Leach, James Anderson.