As the first series of the second World Test Championship looms, England will arguably face their toughest test in over a decade to maintain their recent success against India at home. Ever since what we all thought was a landmark win in Chennai nearly six months ago, England have gone somewhat limply in the other direction to a resurgent India side.
India find themselves the second-ranked Test team in the world after defeat to New Zealand in the first WTC final, but that performance inspired far more confidence than England's most recent showing against the same side, which transported many back to the farcical performances of the nineties.
England have also lost the talismanic Ben Stokes, whose wealth of experience will be missed just as much as the vital balance he brings to any eleven. Without him England often look a batter short, and will find themselves relying to a familiarly unhealthy extent on the runs of Joe Root. It goes without saying that England's skipper will need to better the inevitable class of Virat Kohli for the home team to succeed.
On the subject of India's crown jewel, the man England will inexorably turn to has just turned thirty-nine. That perhaps sounds like disapproval – quite on the contrary, Jimmy Anderson's longevity and brilliance need no repeating, and the fact that he, still, allows for clichees involving certain fine wines to flourish, is a testament to England's greatest. HIs battle with Kohli, as we have said in many an England-India preview, will define the series.
India are frightening, though, in the depth that prevents an over-reliance on their best batsman of the sort that has ailed England for so long. Shubman Gill and Washington Sundar will be notable absentees, but Rishabh Pant, Pujara and Rohit Sharma look more than capable of filling the void. An attack including world-class spinners such as Axar Patel and Ashwin along with a wealth of pace-bowling talent will, at least, closely rival England's.
This new World Test Championship will, then, commence with one of its most significant series, and it is India who will be looking to make a statement in going one step further than last time. Winning in England for the first time in fourteen years would be an emphatic way to begin what will surely, with such talent, turn into a dynastic stretch of cricketing dominance.