England start their highly anticipated four match test series against India on Friday. England come into the series in fine form, with their 2-0 sweep of Sri Lanka meaning it is now five away tests victories in a row for Root’s men.
However, India will undoubtedly pose much more of a challenge. Their form at home is impeccable, with their last series loss in India coming at the hands of England during their 2012/13 tour, during which a certain baby-faced Yorkshiremen was handed his cap. Moreover, India are coming off the back of a historic win in Australia, made even more impressive by injuries to key players and their talismanic captain, Virat Kohli, being unavailable for the final three tests due to paternity leave.
England will not want a repeat of their last tour of India in 2016 where they fell to a humiliating 4-0 defeat. The mood in the England camp will certainly be more positive than the last tour, with the team falling to an embarrassing 108 run defeat at hands of Bangladesh in preparation for that series; England are clearly better prepared this time round.
England will certainly be a stronger team for the return of Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Rory Burns. However, it does present the nice problem of difficult selection choices. Here are the five issues faced by England, as well as the decisions which I believe give them the best chance of victory in the first Test in Chennai.
The decision made by Rory Burns to miss the Sri Lanka series could have had huge implications for his England career. It allowed Zak Crawley, fresh from announcing himself on the world stage with his 267 against Pakistan in the summer, to be promoted to his favoured position at the top of the order. A good series for Crawley would have made it difficult for Burns to reclaim his place. However, Crawley only averaged 8.75 against Sri Lanka, with left arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya claiming each of his dismissals. Dom Sibley faced similar problems against Embuldeniya but overcame this with a match-winning 56* under immense pressure in the fourth innings of the final test. Although unconventional and far from pretty, England look to have found the opening partnership in Sibley and Burns they have been longing for. Thus, Burns, the first Englishmen to score 1000 test runs as an opener since Sir Alastair Cook, should slot back in alongside Sibley, with Crawley moving back down to first drop.
Which young gun in the middle order?
Dan Lawrence looked assured in the first test against Sri Lanka. His 73 in the first innings of received praise for its calm nature, and his 21* in the second saw England home. However, scores of 3 and 2 in the second Test demonstrate he is not quite the Test ready batsmen his debut modelled. His place is under contention from a freshly fit Ollie Pope, who is considered by many to become a mainstay of this team for many years. Pope, although nowhere near a veteran, has more experience than Lawrence, and his 58* in a warmup game in Sri Lanka despite a slight injury demonstrates ability in the subcontinent. These two younger batsmen certainly possess huge potential, but with the return of Ben Stokes there is only room for one in the batting line-up. And for the first Test, it should be Pope who lines up in the middle order.
Which spinners line up?
Jack Leach and Dom Bess did well at stages in Sri Lanka, with both claiming a 5fer and a 4fer. However, this does not tell the whole story. Bess himself admitted he will much bowl better than his 5-30 in the first innings of the first test and not take a wicket in the future. Leach looked more in control than his former Somerset teammate, but was expensive at certain points. However, neither spinners have played much cricket since the pandemic started, with Leach only managing two first-class games in 2020, and Bess hardly bowling during the English Test summer despite selection. The return of Moeen Ali will boost England, with the all-rounder missing the Sri Lanka series after suffering with Covid-19. He has bowled in tests in India previously, and will strengthen the batting line-up; Moeen made two centuries on England’s 2016 tour. Moeen claims to be ‘fresh and hungry’ and should make his Test return on Friday. It makes sense for England to line up with two spinners; Leach should be preferred over Bess due to his superior control.
If the Sri Lanka series is anything to go off, England will continue to rotate between Broad and Anderson during the Indian series. Thus, as Anderson played the last test, Broad should come into the team for the Chennai test. Although Anderson’s record in India (26 wickets @ 33.46) is better than Broad’s (10 wickets @ 53.90), the Notts man is arguably bowling better than he ever has.
His 3-20 in the first innings of the first Sri Lankan test doubled the number of wickets he had taken in the country, and his economy rate of just 0.82 after 17 overs shows he has adapted his skills for the subcontinent where Broad has previously struggled. He will no doubt add to his 517 test wickets, with Anderson rotating in for the second test .
Does Jof walk in?
Mark Wood deserves immense credit for his effort in both tests against Sri Lanka. In the intense heat, he kept on running in, on pitches which offered very little for his fast bowling. After going wicketless in the first test, his hard work finally got the reward it deserved in the second with Wood taking 3-84 off 28 overs as seam dominated the Sri Lankan first innings. Wood has been sent home, allowing Archer to come into the squad, and take his place as the paceman in the starting eleven. There is no doubt over the ability and world-beating potential of Archer, but the Sussex man still has his fair share of critics. This series presents a great opportunity for Jofra to silence them. He can learn from Wood and hope for a return to the form which excited so many during the 2019 Ashes Series. He has experience of bowling in India from his IPL seasons in 2018 and 2019 (averaging 23.69 in India in the IPL), and he, more than anyone, will be hoping he can utilise his experience from the short form to Test level in India.
My line-up for England’s first Test against India on Friday at the MA Chidambaram Stadium
1. Rory Burns (Matches:21 Innings:38 Runs:1233 Average:32.44 HS:133 100s:2 50s:8)
2. Dom Sibley (Matches:14 Innings:23 Runs:748 Average:35.61 HS:133* 100s:2 50s:3)
3. Zak Crawley (Matches:10 Innings:16 Runs:616 Average:38.50 HS:267 100s:1 50s:3)
4. Joe Root (Matches:99 Innings:181 Runs:8249 Average:49.39 HS:254 100s:19 50s:49)
5. Ollie Pope (Matches:13 Innings:20 Runs:645 Average:37.94 HS:135* 100s:1 50s:5)
6. Ben Stokes (Matches:67 Innings:122 Runs:4428 Average:37.84 HS:258 100s:10 50s:22, Bowling– Innings:111 Wickets:158 Average:31.40 BBI:6/22 BBM:8/161 5w:4)
7. Jos Buttler (Matches:49 Innings:85 Runs:2674 Average:34.72 HS:152 100s:2 50s:18)
8. Moeen Ali (Matches:60 Innings:104 Runs:2782 Average:28.97 HS:155* 100s:5 50s:14, Bowling– Innings:105 Wickets:181 Average:36.59 BBI:6/53 BBM:10/112 5w:5)
9. Stuart Broad (Matches:144 Innings:265 Wickets:517 Average:27.56 BBI:8/15 BBM:11/121 5w:18)
10. Jofra Archer (Matches:11 Innings:21 Wickets:38 Average:31.10 BBI:6/45 BBM:8/85 5w:3)
11. Jack Leach (Matches:12 Innings:21 Wickets:44 Average:30.50 BBI:5/83 BBM:8/153 5w:2)