India showed immense character, grit, and perseverance to successfully defend the Border Gavaskar Trophy. Emerging victorious with a 2-1 scoreline despite missing many of their mainstays is a testament to the fine cricketing depth the country possesses.
Back on home soil, with some of their key personnel fully fit, and others hungry to cement their places, Virat Kohli’s men will take on Joe Root-led England in a four-match Test series, beginning with the Chennai Test on 5 February.
England was the first country where cricket resumed after the long hiatus due to COVID-19. Since then, they have been actively playing cricket. And although their last tour, of Sri Lanka, would have helped them in getting accustomed to the subcontinent conditions, they will have to bring their A game against India, who are expected to pose a sterner challenge.
Ahead of the Test series, we take a look at the five England players to watch out for:
Joe Root emerged as highest run-getter in the Sri Lanka series with 426 runs in two Tests. Averaging 106.50, the stylish right-hander struck two centuries, the highlight being his stellar 228 in the first Test.
The skipper, being one of the few English batsmen from the current set up who play spin well, will once again be expected to set the batting template in the India series.
The 30-year-old, in fact, relishes batting in India and this is evident from his statistics. Root has an impressive average of 53.09 in the six Tests he has played in the country, which includes a century and five half-centuries.
As a skipper, Root is mighty pleased and confident after England’s 2-0 series sweep in Sri Lanka but he will be well aware about India’s potency, especially in home conditions where they have an impeccable record.
The English selectors opted to rest Jonny Bairstow for the first two Tests at Chennai, a move that didn’t go down well with former England players Nasser Hussain, Kevin Pietersen and Michael Vaughan. These reservations are quite valid since Bairstow is among the few individuals who play spin well. The right-hander, nevertheless, is expected to feature in the final two Tests.
Bairstow had earned a Test recall for the Sri Lanka series, having last played against South Africa in Cape Town in 2019. Against the Islanders, he amassed 139 runs in two Tests at an average of 46.33.
The series against India also comprises of five ODIs and three T20Is, and Bairstow, a key member of England’s white-ball squad, will look to set the right tone starting with the Tests.
Moeen Ali missed the two Sri Lanka Tests since he tested positive for COVID-19 on his arrival to the Island nation.
The 33-year-old has spent plenty of time on the sidelines as far as the game’s longest format is concerned. He was last seen in whites for England in August 2019 against Australia.
That said, the India series would serve as an ideal platform for him to make a case and cement his position in England’s competitive Test side. The all-rounder had made noteworthy contributions, even during England’s last India tour in 2016, where they suffered a 0-4 series drubbing. Averaging 42.33, the left-handed batsman notched up two centuries and a fifty, while scalping 10 wickets with his off-break bowling.
Left-arm spinner Jack Leach made the most of Ali’s absence in the Sri Lanka series, claiming a five-for alongside fellow spinner Bess. While Bess seems a definite starter, Ali’s all-round abilities and experience make him a strong contender for the second frontline spinner’s position. The visitors are unlikely to field three spinners, with skipper Root bowling his part-time off spin, which could result in Leach’s exclusion from the team.
Off-spinner Dom Bess shone on his first trip to the subcontinent, finishing as England’s leading wicket-taker in the Two-test series against Sri Lanka.
Snaring a total of 12 wickets and bowling a remarkable spell of 5/30 (his career-best) in the first Test against Sri Lanka, he showed the value he brings to the side, especially on subcontinent tracks where conditions tend to favour the spinners.
Often labelled as a bowling all-rounder, Bess averages 25.50 with the bat in Test cricket. The visitors would want him to make up for the absence of all-rounder Sam Curran, who has been rested for the two Tests, and provide some useful contributions down the order.
James Anderson did not feature in the first Test against Sri Lanka. The veteran pacer, however, made the most of second Test as he claimed his 30th five-wicket haul with figures of 6/40.
The veteran pacer, who is known for his lethal swing bowling in home conditions, is well aware that bowling in subcontinent is a “different challenge” altogether. “It’s just a different challenge. There’s reverse swing; the new ball does swing. Our job might be about shorter spells and (fewer) overs in the day,” Anderson said ahead of subcontinent tours of Sri Lanka and India.
The 38-year-old brings a wealth of experience to the table, and alongside Stuart Broad, will hold key to success of the visitors’ pace attack, although the two might be rotated over the course of four Tests.
Interestingly, Anderson, who has picked up 600 wickets from 156 Tests, is yet to claim a five-wicket haul on Indian soil. This time, against Virat Kohli’s rampant side, the 38-year-old will look to prove that he still has enough gas left in the tank even at 38.