Top ranked India host number four placed England in what is expected to be a pulsating series of Test cricket in what is also the first time India are playing a five match series at home since 1988. The Test series begins in Rajkot on Wednesday and promises big things for the Virat Kohli-led unit who are coming on the back of a 3-0 series whitewash against New Zealand.
On the other hand, England are a worn out and disrupted unit after drawing 1-1 with Bangladesh and being hurt by the spin on similar tracks such as India’s. But there are a few names who can make India pay in their own backyard:
Cook displayed scintillating skills the last time England were here and if the captain can repeat those heroics, the visitors would be able to withstand the pressure usually provided by India’s spin threat. Then Cook scored 562 runs including three centuries to deliver with the bat as England came out 2-1 winners in the series – for a historic win in India after 28 years.
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Last time he was in India, Stokes wore a disappointed look. As you would expect after being belted for four sixes in a row in the final of a major tournament. The opposition was West Indies and the final was that of the World T20 and a win was snatched from England’s grasps with that big hitting by Carlos Brathwaite. Since then, most recently, he played a match winning knock in the first Test against Bangladesh to give his side the win and also produced with the ball to pick up 11 wickets in the series.
What Monty Panesar did to India in the last series, England would hope Moeen Ali can replicate that in this series. Its not that Ali is new to facing India, he infact picked up 19 Indian wickets in 2014 to announce himself on the stage. But that was in England and since then, Ali hasn’t been exceptional with the ball. In the Bangladesh series, Ali showed glimpses of brilliance but couldn’t stop England from only mustering a draw. His final tally stood at 11 wickets and also produced with the willow to score 92 runs. In an England side struggling to face the Bangladeshi spin, Ali was more of a resolute option and that could also happen against India.
If there is someone who can reach close to Cook in creating run scoring records, it is Joe Root. He made his debut against India in the fourth Test of the last series in Nagpur and scoring 93 runs in the match, little could be read from it with the surface drawing criticism. Later during India’s tour of England, he further highlighted his capabilities with 154-not out in the first Test, 79 in the second, 59 in the third, 77 in the fourth and then 149-not out to cap off a solid series.
Bairstow has played only one Test against India and it came in the 2012 series when he played in the second match in Mumbai but has little to remember from that contest when he scored just nine. For the next Test, he was dropped to maintain the balance in the side. Since then he’s been in and out of the side but has now cemented his place in the team. In the Bangladesh series, Bairstow accumulated 126 runs with a fifty in the first Test and has already become the highest scorer for a keeper in a year – a record previously held by former England coach and Zimbabwe captain Andy Flower.