Guerilla Cricket's Tony Bishop is cautiously optimistic for England in India.
On their own patch, India are favourites. They have quite rightly won huge plaudits for pulling off a dramatic series win in Australia and with an injury ravaged team stuck together with string and Sellotape too. However, favourites don't always win and England have better than a puncher's chance here.
Whilst India will point to a number of factors in their favour, including the return of some big guns and familiar home conditions, the fact is England are a very tough nut to crack anywhere in the world these days and there are plenty of reasons for English optimism.
- History is in England's favour. England have won or drawn 41 out of 60 tests in India. They have also won or drawn (8) more series than they have lost there (5). Sure, the last one was a chastening 4 – 0 thumping in 2016/17 and included defeat in Chennai by an innings and 75 runs. However, in 2012, England triumphed in India to win that 4 – match series 2 – 1 as Sir Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen, out-batted India while England's spinners, Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann, out bowled them. Monty took 17 wickets in that series and whilst they had both moved on, he and Swann had played together for Northants
- There may be talk of 'English wickets', but as night follows day, those wickets will take turn. England go into this series with a likely spin paring in Leach and Bess nicely warmed up in Sri Lanka and used to operating as a double act on the carefully tended spin friendly surfaces of Ciderabad (aka Taunton)
- India do win more than they lose in Chennai and you have to go back to 1999 to their last defeat against Pakistan. But the last game there was in 2016, so it's a fresh start for both sides. England can rightly claim that their three wins in Chennai were all by big margins (even if they were in 1934, 1977 and 1985). Another win is certainly due
- India do not look anything like as convincing at Ahmedabad, winning only 4 out of 12 there to date. England have won once in 2001 and lost once in 2012 (when a Pujara powered India saw them off by 9 wickets)
- Current form and confidence are both excellent for England. Joe Root has just led England to 5 consecutive test wins away from home for the first time in over 100 years (you can of course say both SA and SL have their issues) but that is still some achievement. England are unbeaten in the last 7 and have lost only one of their last 11
- India by contrast, since bullying South Africa and Bangladesh at home, have won just two of their last six tests. Hands up though, those two were very special and yes, they did win 7 on the bounce in the West Indies and at home to South Africa and Bangladesh
- England are rotating and resting their squad (Mark Wood, Sam Curran and Bairstow are missing at least the first two Tests and Jos Buttler will play just the first match and then fly home for a couple of weeks). However, in come the commentors' dream trio of Stokes, Foakes and Woakes as well as Moeen, Ali, Oli Stone and Rory Burns. Strength in depth and skills in some cases more suited to conditions than those they have replaced
- Much will depend on the pitches prepared in India. The groundsman in Chennai has already promised one with "an English look", which can only mean live green grass and will doubtless excite the likes of seamers Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma, who have returned to contention among India's deepest seam-bowling resources ever. But that will also have Anderson, Broad and Archer, not to mention Ollie Stone pawing the ground in anticipation
- And finally, no doubt Virat Kohli is some player. But with him in the side India were rolled for 36 in Adelaide. Look what happened after he went home. India will no doubt bring back the big guns, but will that impact team unity and spirit? Read some of Ajinkya Rahane's recent quotes. I'm not sure I take 'Virat will always be my captain' at face value. Rahane has just led a team of fearless young guns and one or two older heads to an amazing series win. How will those same young guns feel if they are side-lined by their more illustrious and established colleagues?
It's some match – up between Joe Root and Virat Kohli. The latter, for the most precious and important of reasons, has just watched from afar as his young charges achieved one of India's greatest ever series wins. The former led from the front, piling up runs on spinning Sri Lankan wickets.
Joe Root will celebrate his 100th test match in Chennai and his record of 25 wins in 46 tests is the 4th highest win percentage (54.34%) among those who were captain in 10 or more tests. Just look at the company he is in here:
- WG Grace 61.53%
- Douglas Jardine 60%
- Mike Brearley 58.06%
- Joe Root 54.34%
- Percy Chapman 52.94%
- Michael Vaugh 50.98%
I'm not hiding from the fact that Virat has a win rate of 59%, but Joe Root has ample reason to feel confident, not least having played in England's last series win in India in 2012/13.
There are certainly some questions for England to answer here, mainly around the opening paring. But against that, England have real strength in depth and men in form.
Unproven. They say he plays spin well. But 3 tests in SL in 2018 and an average of 25 is not stellar. India's attack will be eying up that rather idiosyncratic batting style like lions stalking a limping gazelle. I'm not over confident for Rory and I wonder if he may left out to minimise the number of left handers that Ravi Ashwin tends to feast upon at home.
Too stiff? Too leg side? Possibly and India will be aware of that. Like Crawley he had a bad time against Embuldeniya in Sri Lanka BUT he came good and had found ways to combat his demons by his 4th and match winning innings. Notably playing the left armer with the spin to off and getting his front foot forward quicker. I don't think he will be pretty to watch in India, but I do think he will get a few nuggety big scores and surprise a few people.
Sri Lanka was horrible and I expect he is still seeing Lasith Embuldeniya in his dreams. At least he shouldn't need to open. But apart from Axar Patel I'm don't think India have a real slow left arm orthodox in their squad? One to watch.
228 and 186 in Sri Lanka. A winning captain. Driven to be back in the big boys' club again with Kane, Virat and Smith. Has worked on his technique and adapted to sub continental conditions. I back him to outscore VK. And since 2018 he averages 300 with his sweep shots. That should be more than handy in India.
A series of two halves in Sri Lanka. Great start in the first test, but a very modest second test. Perhaps he was unsettled by old Jazz Hand's talking up his playing of spin. But remember, Chelmsford is a ground where the wicket does take some turn and he has had Simon Harmer to watch and learn from. He's only 23 and has a calm head. There may be some ups and downs on this tour, but he will do well for England.
San Curran may be rested, but with Ben Stokes back, England are in very good order here.
Reputation proceeds him of course and his return is a real shot in the arm for England. Expect to see him as a batsman and only occasional bowler. But when his name appears on the team – sheet I can guarantee no Indian player will be punching the air with delight. Big personality, big hitter and able to pace his innings to suit the needs of a game. If he does well, England will do well. I'm optimistic.
Decided against the IPL to secure his England place instead. 3 wickets in 3 previous tests in India at 81 and strike rate of 154 doesn't look good. Neither does a batting average of 14 and a top score of 30. In 3 matches, 1/16, 1/6 and 1/79 seem ok, but in two cases he was wicketless for loads in the first innings and in the third case India didn't need to bat twice. He's a cannier operator now and I suspect this series, if he plays, will go better for him.
What a conundrum Moeen Ali has become. On his day a huge asset with bat and ball. But he had to sit out the Sri Lanka tests following a positive Covid test, has had no red ball cricket since the summer, no test cricket for 18 months and didn't set the IPL alight. He says he is ready though, has his eye on his 200th wicket and even though England got thumped, he did make his last test ton in Chennai in 2016 with 146.
Moeen feels he has unfinished business. I think England will play him, particularly with his experience, but they may also look at him in the same light as Rory Burns and limit left handers. I'm not overly optimistic for him this tour. I do hope I am wrong.
India has not recently been the gun bowler's graveyard it was once feared to be. Just look at the success and resources now in India's pace department. But England can more than match them.
What can you say? The older he gets the better he gets. And check out his record in India. 10 matches and 26 wickets at 33 is not too shabby at all. He proved again in Sri Lanka that he can take wickets in any conditions, and notched numbers 601 to 606 on his gun belt. Unlike some of us in lockdown, he emerged in Sri Lanka as fit as a flea, leaner and sharper. More wickets to come in this series, I think.
For all the hype the best is yet to come from Jofra. His IPL experience will count in his favour. I'm not sure any of the Indian top order will fancy taking a few up the nose from him and the possibility of English style wickets will be music to his ears. He is box office and its always worth the price of a ticket.
Like Jimmy – what more can you say? Drop him for the first test to wind him up and then just let him lose. He and Archer in tandem is some prospect. Its likely he and Jimmy will be used alternately rather than as a unit. But a look at the Chennai wicket on the first morning may just effect a change in England's thinking on that.
Quick, bouncy and very effective on English wickets. But against that, his fitness is very unreliable and his only test to date was against Ireland at Lords in bowler friendly conditions. Expect him to be used sparingly.
Dom Bess and Jack Leach took 22 wickets between them at 35 and 21 respectively in Sri Lanka. You would think that would fill England fans with confidence and yet the spin department causes most concern ahead of this series. To be the best, you have to bowl at the best in conditions that allow you to prosper. England's spinners will have that, so fear not.
He's not the finished article by any manner of means and in Sri Lanka we saw that he struggles to get the flight and dip he and England desire. But his skills have been honed on the viper's nest pitches of Cyderabad. 12 wickets in two tests in Galle and he got better throughout, even allowing for bowling filth and somehow getting a 5fer in the first test. I would play him ahead of Moeen and have a feeling this India series could be the making of him.
Jack Leach (and his glasses cloth)
The question has always been "If he can't roll up the Taunton wicket and take it with him abroad, is he really a frontline international spinner?" Ten wickets in Sri Lanka, even against some schoolboy batting, was a good return. The concern would be that only one of those wickets was in the first innings. If he can avoid being ill, or slipping over in the bathroom and cracking his skull again, I think he will come good. And I believe England think that, as well as liking the idea of teaming him with Bess as right arm/left arm spin twins. India is 'make or break' for Leach and I have a feeling he will come out ok.
The eternal conundrum for England. Foakes is technically the better keeper and more than capable batsman. Jos Buttler can win you games with the bat, is not as good a keeper, but is the man in possession and has done it with the bat when needed recently.
Jos will go home after the first test. Ben Foakes will get his chance. Its 'cake and eat it' time for England fans.
Jos is in decent form and has shown in Sri Lanka and at Old Trafford that he can handle red ball pressure situations. Now he even has a stumping to his name. India will be very wary of how destructive he can be. He will play in the first test and has said it is 'fun' to keep when the ball is spinning
Yes, he is the best wicket keeper in the England squad. Let's not waste time debating it. He averages 41 in 5 tests. All out of the UK. His excellent 2018 tour of Sri Lanka and debut century was followed up with a more modest return in the West Indies. But when he plays, he will not let England down.
The IPL: does it have an influence in England?
An odd question perhaps as we all know that red ball and white ball cricket are very different. Not to mention this year's IPL wasn't even in India of course. But there is no doubt that the ECB have embraced it, and the results are there to see in England's T20 and ODI World Cup winning performances. Buttler, Stokes, Morgan, Bairstow, Archer are all better limited over players, indeed players generally for their participation. Post Covid, delayed IPL and bubble fatigue, means England have to manage resources. Chris Silverwood is firm in stating that "we need to look after the players. And I do believe we have to be proactive in looking after them, rather than wait until there's a problem." Winning 2-0 in Sri Lanka despite resting Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer, they showed they had done a pretty good job of managing the rotation process.
Happier, more flexible, more adaptable players. Embracing rather than fighting the IPL has been the right way to go for England.
India is a great team, at a great time for them, with huge resources (on and off the pitch). They have considerable home advantage. England will not lie down though and have at least one result in them as well as the ability to adapt on the hoof. They can look to their predecessors from 2012/13 for lessons and inspiration. Remember in the series before that Nasser Hussein's injury hit squad played attritional cricket to limit India to a 1-0 win. England may need to employ similar tactics at times, but they are more adaptable than the troops Nasser had at his disposal.
I fancy a 1 -1 draw in this series and it will not be dull.