After winning the One Day International (ODI) series 2-1 against Bangladesh earlier this month, England start their Test series campaign in Chittagong from Thursday.
That will help the Indian team assess how much England have acclimatized to the subcontinental conditions over the last month. The first-ever five-Test series since 1987 on Indian soil will be as challenging for Indian Test captain Virat Kohli as it will be for England captain Alastair Cook. England are the only team to have beaten India in the last decade (the last time when the two teams met in 2012, the hosts, led by M.S. Dhoni, lost 1-2 ).
“This is going to be a competitive series. England are one of the better sides in the world. So we can expect some high-quality cricket even though we are playing at home,” said Kohli, when the itinerary was announced two months back.
England may not have the mercurial Kevin Pietersen or the wily Graeme Swann, who played pivotal roles last time, but they have enough match-winners. “Do everything you can to upset them. England have two or three fiery characters, so rile them and see if they fold under the pressure,” wrote former England captain Michael Vaughan in The Daily Telegraph on 10 October.
He was defending Jos Buttler’s aggressive behaviour after the ODI series win against Bangladesh but also advising England’s current and future opponents.
One can expect plenty of chit-chats and verbal exchanges on the field in India—the Test series starts 9 November in Rajkot. In the last series between the sides in 2014, in England, one of the incidents that made the headlines was a confrontation between Ravindra Jadeja and James Anderson.
“This (is) where England will be tested over the next couple of months on the subcontinent…. In the World Twenty20 final earlier this year they allowed themselves to be goaded by Marlon Samuels. He ultimately had the winning moment. The one thing England have to work on is the discipline side of their mentality in such situations. Stop spitting the dummy out. Play aggressively with a controlled mindset. That is when they are at their best,” argues Vaughan.
England would have spent a month in the subcontinent before they play India and they will spend another couple of months here. Based on past experience, fatigue and homesickness are factors that could come into play.
“The duration of the tour is not an issue. It depends on what kind of preparation you have. It also depends on the individual players since a long tour also means you can improve more as the tour progresses,” says former Pakistani off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq, who worked with the England team as a spin-consultant a few months back.
The premier fast bowler, England’s Anderson, who is already out of the Bangladesh tour due to shoulder injury, has also been ruled out of the first Test in India. More than Swann (20 wickets in four Tests) and Monty Panesar (17 wickets in three matches), skipper Dhoni believed it was Anderson’s 12 wickets on the last trip that had proved to be the difference between the two teams.
This time, a lot will be expected from Anderson’s new ball partner Stuart Broad, who failed to take a single wicket in two matches in 2012.
The dearth of quality spin is evident in the fact that English selectors recalled 39-year-old Gareth Batty to join spinners Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Zafar Ansari for the Bangladesh tour. Though Ali had a great series against India in 2014 (in England), this group doesn’t look threatening in spin-friendly conditions.
What may give England some confidence is that it’s almost a decade since India won a back-to-back series against them (1-0 in 2007 in England) and (2-0 in 2008 in India). Since then, they haven’t managed to win a Test series against them either at home or away.
Vimal Kumar is the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide.