With more capability than it had in 2021, England could salvage a draw from 2-1 down. Although the essence remains the same
The wait is about to come to an end, after what is possibly the longest gap between two matches of the same series. The fourth Test happened last year, and the fifth was supposed to happen a few days later, but the virus rained on India’s parade. At this point, it looks like England might have benefitted more from the rescheduling.
With more capability than it had in 2021, England could salvage a draw from 2-1 down. Although the essence remains the same, there has been a significant shift in their approach ever since Ben Stokes took control. They are no longer a shapeless identity, devoid of any vision or plan. After the Ashes debacle Down Under, England went into a soul-searching mode, which started with sacking both the manager and captain. The change of guards yielded them an instant result, as they romped over the world champions, New Zealand, by 3-0.
Similarly, a power shift took place in India, too. Virat Kohli, the firebrand leader who led them on the last tour, is no longer the captain. Rohit Sharma, his heir apparent, is down with Covid, while Ajinkya Rahane, the next of kin has fallen out of favour. Naturally, this is adding to the anticipation and intrigue. The series will be determined by the same storylines that tilted the balance to the visitors’ side on the last tour. Here are some interesting duels to look out for:
In all certainty, this is the last time we are going to see the two legends against each other. At 40, there’s not much cricket left in Anderson. But him, moving in a fluid motion with the notorious Duke ball in his hand, is not a sight a batter relishes. Virat Kohli got his first Test in 2014, where he fell to Anderson on four occasions in five games, and finished the tour with an average of 13. They met again in 2018. This time Kohli rode on his luck, reprieved by Dawid Malan, and scored a memorable 149. At Edgbaston, in the absence of Rohit Sharma, the onus will be on Virat Kohli. And England will waste no time in unleashing James Anderson.
Should India play Ravindra Jadeja, or R Ashwin? Perhaps both? The series between New Zealand and England was largely played on a flat surface, where the batting got easier as the day progressed. This also helped the likes of Jonny Bairstow bring their white-ball repertoire, without worrying about the movement.
On a similar surface, playing both Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin makes sense for India. Moreover, this will also bring to the fore the weakness of England’s batters against spin. If India decides to bank on three frontline pacers, they have to leave either Jadeja or Ashwin. Again, throughout the stay last season, the team was criticised for benching Ashwin. It remains to be seen whether the team sticks to Jadeja or brings Ashwin into the mix.
Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed had a forgetful outing last season. Their cheap dismissals made things way too easy for Indian speedsters, as it hastened the arrival of Joe Root to the crease. Not only did Root have to negate the early movements, but face pacers with fresh legs (which is a wholly different challenge as compared to batting against the tired bowlers). This has been a recurring theme on the English side. Ever since Alastair Cook bid adieu to the game in 2018, England has struggled to find a reliable opening pair. It has been a continuous experiment for them, chopping and changing after each series. Zak Crawley, who was brought in for the Kiwi series, will be getting dropped without any second thoughts. But who will replace Crawley? Harry Brook seems to be the most plausible option.