Much has changed since India and England last met in a Test match at Edgbaston. It was back in the summer of 2011, when Alistair Cook batted for over 12 hours to grind out a 294 that flattened the visiting side and took England to number one in the ICC rankings. It was yet another low-point in a painful tour for a beleaguered Indian team.Seven years on, India returns to the venue top of the rankings, full of the belief that the outcome will be nothing like the same.
Virat Kohli has decisions to make ahead of Wednesday’s first Test and they are not easy ones. Shikhar Dhawan lasted a grand total of four balls in the tour game at Essex; he has a poor record in England, and increasingly gives the impression that he is a batsman best suited to short-form cricket. Kohli is a fan of the left-right hand batting combination — a reason he cited for Dhawan’s selection for the first Test in South Africa in January — but that can no longer be enough to justify his presence.
K.L. Rahul is India’s best choice to open alongside M. Vijay in these conditions, even if the team management has described him as the ‘third opener’. Rahul was used at No. 6 at Chelmsford last week, which is an option if the team wants to field an extra batsman. Kohli, for his part, needs to make a statement in the first Test of a marquee series: a big score will put the rest of the dressing room at ease. The captain has also to ponder over his bowling combination.Rain has brought to an end what they were calling the hottest spell in the United Kingdom for 42 years, and the perception locally is that the surface will behave much like it did during the last two Tests here: spin did not play a great role then.
England named its XI on match-eve, fielding just one spinner in Adil Rash id, a selection that suggests that Joe Root does not expect a dry turner. It remains to be seen what India will do.In his team selection, Kohli trusts what he calls ‘gut feel’. He could be tempted to include Kuldeep Yadav but if India does opt to deploy a single spinner, it would be difficult to look beyond R. Ashwin. Umesh Yadav has perhaps bowled himself into contention with his performance against Essex last week, when he took four for 35 from 18 overs. Ishant Sharma offers control and is perhaps the one Indian seamer capable of bowling ‘dry’.is critical that India’s pace bowlers stay disciplined not just in short bursts but throughout a Test match. The absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, who showed great improvement in a short span in South Africa, is a blow.
For all of India’s supposed weakness overseas, England is a team in flux itself, having lost six of its last nine Tests, and none to opposition that might be construed as fearsome.It creates the mouthwatering prospect of a marathon prize-fight between two proud but vulnerable teams this summer.
Joe Root (Capt.), James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler, Alastair Cook, Sam Curran, Keaton Jennings, Dawid Malan, Adil Rashid and Ben Stokes.
Virat Kohli (Capt.), Shikhar Dhawan, K.L. Rahul, M. Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair, Dinesh Karthik, Rishabh Pant, R. Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Ishant Sharma, Mohd. Shami, Umesh Yadav and ShardulThakur.