England start a demanding Test series against the world’s number one side India in the early hours of Wednesday morning. England will be way out of their comfort zone if the recent drawn series against Bangladesh is anything to go by.
The hosts come off the back of a successful 3-0 victory over New Zealand whilst the visitors were lucky to come away with a draw as they lost for the first time against Bangladesh in the second Test, with a traditional collapse thrown in for good measure.
Let’s start with the hosts. They are captained by the best batsmen in the world, Virat Kohli. With the bat, they boast the undeniable ability to play spin with apparent ease, so it’s lucky for England that their spinners can barely turn the ball.
Star names in the upper order include the captain himself, the robust Murali Vijay along with Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma. The side haven’t even been hit too hard by the loss of MS Dhoni. Replacement WP Saha has impressed with the bat and gloves since his introduction to the test side.
With the ball Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja’s spin will worry an England side that have never got to grips with a moving ball. The pair are ranked one and seven in Test bowling right now.
In the third and final test vs New Zealand, Ashwin took 13 wickets across both innings. Jadeja is another aggressive spinner, while the likes of Kumar and Shami will lead the line with the ball. Maybe England will seek solace in the fact that India won’t go all out spin like Bangladesh, but India’ seamers, especially Kumar, will ask questions of a fragile England batting line up with consistent seam and swing.
India are a level above Bangladesh. They can bat deep into their order, meaning England must be on song for every over, hour and session in tough conditions. It has potential to be demoralising, which is why it is important for England to go with the right balance of seam and spin.
It didn’t take much for England’s weaknesses to be exposed in Bangladesh. Without a frontline and genuinely world class spinner, they went with three ‘good’ spinners in both tests. Let’s take a look at the four spinners England have taken to India:
Moeen Ali is considered England’s focal spinner and has been for some time. India is an opportunity for him to learn the art of spin bowling, but he must be able to learn quickly if England are to stand a chance.
Adil Rashid is an interesting one. While he spins the ball at right angles, he is better used as an impact change. When being used for long spells, England find themselves leaking runs at 5/5.5 runs per over.
Gareth Batty was back in the England set up for Bangladesh and remains in the squad. His inclusion 11 years after his last call-up showed the dearth of English spin talent and the inability to replace the retired Graeme Swann rather than shining a light on Batty as a bowler.
Then there is the newly capped Zafar Ansari, the slow left arm who with more consistent lines and lengths, has potential to be the future for English spin.
Yet again, England are struggling with the bat. We’ve become used to that. It’s unusual over the past year for Bayliss’ men to forge more than 1 or 2 significant partnerships, which on any tour doesn’t stand you in good stead. They need all of their top order to contribute, which is why we will see changes.
England have already confirmed that Lancashire youngster Haseeb Hameed will open the batting which means that Ben Duckett is likely to drop down the order with the dreadfully out of form Gary Ballance missing out.
England’s rotation in Bangladesh was part-helpful and part-confusing, but we can probably expect more of it in India. While it meant that key bowlers such as Stuart Broad will be fully refreshed come the first test in Rajkot, many fans were left asking questions as to why Hameed did not play a part. His inclusion in Bangladesh could have prepared him for what is to come, but if he is to make his debut against India, there is very little leeway for mistake.
While England won’t want to lose this first test, it’s more probable than other outcomes. They must learn from any mistakes and naiveties quickly in India or it’ll be a very long series. England will settle for a well fought test, but I fancy India to take a 1-0 lead.
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