Che faces the axe as stats reveal India would do better with Jake Ball at No 3

Che goodbye: Pujara was struggling to cement his place in the side

After a summer in which cricket has taken a back-seat role to the World Cup, it returns to centre stage in August with one of the most eagerly anticipated clashes in years: five Tests between England and India in a series that rests on a knife-edge.

India are the best Test side in the world at the moment according to the ICC rankings: in the last three years, their record is an impressive P34 W23 D7 L4, with batsmen averaging 39 in that time. In contrast, England have lost more than they’ve won (P41 W15 D6 L10) in that time, with their batsmen averaging just 32.

Add to that the recent memories of India’s dominance in the 2016 series, which they won 4-0 with two innings victories in the final two Tests, and the odds would seem to be stacked massively in the tourists’ favour. But they’re not: markets have England at 46% to win the first Test, with India at 32% and the draw at 22%.

Death, taxes and India’s struggles on English pitches: India have won just six Tests out of 57 in England in their history, losing 30 and drawing 21. They’ve played nine Tests in England in the 2010s, of which seven have resulted in heavy defeats (four innings defeats, three by an average of 260 runs). So the odds shift back England’s way.

The first question for this Indian team may be crucial: who should they pick? Virat Kohli is the first name on the team sheet: the best batsman in the world over the past year, averaging 81 and scoring over 1,000 runs in just nine matches. Shikhar Dhawan (last year average: 63) and Murali Vijay (50) are most likely to open, with Vijay having scored 400 runs on the 2014 tour.

Fans of KL Rahul – who scored a record-equalling seven consecutive half-centuries last year, but struggled in South Africa in January – may be looking out for whether he displaces Che Pujara from the No 3 spot. Pujara has been ever-present for India in recent times and performed well, but his average of just 14 in the county championship for Yorkshire this year is lower than that of Jake Ball in the same competition.

Kohli will likely bat at four, with vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane the best bet for the number five spot despite averaging just 28 in the last year. England fans will remember Karun Nair’s 303* in Chennai last time the two sides matched up, but he hasn’t played in over a year after a lean time against Australia and is likely to be left on the bench for the start of the series.

With gloveman Wriddiman Saha injured, Dinesh Karthik played his first Test in eight-and-a-half years against Afghanistan in June: he and Hardik Pandya will occupy the six and seven slots. Karthik was given the nod at six last time round, but Hardik has impressed with the bat and his Test average of 37 is superior to Karthik’s 27. The fearsome 20-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant, who averages 55 in first class cricket at a strike rate of 5.7rpo, is also rewarded for his fine form for India A with a call-up to the Test squad.

Many would love to see Kuldeep Yadav in the Test side after bamboozling England’s batsmen in the first two ODIs, taking nine wickets at a rate of one every 13 balls. However, heads will likely rule hearts among the Indian selectors given the prominence of Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Both are multi-faceted cricketers, with batting averages (30 and 29) well above their bowling averages (25 and 23). Even if not selected for the first Test, though, Kuldeep could yet have some part to play in the series.

With the weather hot and dry, and the opposition England, the temptation to play two spinners could be high – but the likelihood remains that Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma will all play; the latter has fond memories of Lord’s in particular, after taking seven for 74 to drive India to only their second Test win at Lord’s. Shami went round the park in England in 2014, but averages 21 in the past year. Guerilla heartthrob Bhuvi Kumar has not been named in the squad yet due to injury, while Jasprit Bumrah should be available for the second Test.

Broadcast Schedule

IPL 2024
IPL 2024 Q1 KKR v SRH
21st May
Start time: 3:00 pm BST
England v Pakistan 2024 T20 series
1st T20, ENG v PAK, Headingley
22nd May
Start time: 6:30 pm BST