(Photo: Getty Images)
By Harvey Burgess
What can England expect from India
England travel to India ahead of a five-Test series after sharing the spoils in their two matches against Bangladesh. A disappointing performance in the second Test in particular leaves many fans fearing a humiliating defeat against the world’s number one Test side, who come into the series in fine form.
It is likely that England will make at least one change to their starting XI before the first Test in Rajkot, which starts a week tomorrow, but what exactly can England expect from the home side? It is undoubtedly worth taking a look at India’s probable XI and seeing what problems they will pose.
The 24-year-old right-handed batsman only has nine Tests under his belt, however he has three impressive centuries to show for it. A prolific run-scorer in first-class cricket, where he averages 53, Rahul initially came into the side in late 2014 at number 6, but was swiftly promoted to opener for a Sydney Test against Australia – the change worked immediately for Rahul, who proceeded to score his first international century.
He has also two very differing records to his name in limited-overs international cricket, becoming the first Indian player to score a century on his international ODI debut and also the first player to be out for a golden duck in T20 cricket for India. It is easy to see why Rahul is so highly rated in his home country and England must be wary of his ability at the top of the order.
Vastly more experienced than his fellow opener at 32 years of age, Vijay made his Test debut in 2008 and has gone on to feature in 42 matches in his career since. However it has not all been plain-sailing for the part-time off-spinner, who endured a poor series against West Indies in 2011 and had to wait 19 months thereafter for his next call-up to the side. Vijay grasped his opportunity with both hands, registering back-to-back 150s as well as an impressive half century which led him to become the series’ top scorer with 430 runs.
The opener further impressed despite a 1-3 series defeat to England, top scoring again for his country with 402 runs across five Tests and has scored two Test centuries since, against Australia and Bangladesh. Despite now being considered a mainstay of the India side, Vijay does not come into the series in particularly good form, having endured a disappointing final two Tests against New Zealand after scoring two half centuries in the first match. A player who tends to blow hot and cold in equal measure, England will hope that Vijay does not repeat his fine performances of the last series that these two sides played against each other.
A right-handed batsman of immense talent, Pujara boasts a phenomenal average of 45.22, bettered only by Ajinkya Rahane in the India side having played 19 Tests more. The 28-year-old showed his prowess with an impressive 72 on debut against Australia in 2010 and that came with the pressure of replacing Rahul Dravid, one of the greatest batsmen of all time. Scorer of three half centuries and 1 ton against New Zealand, Pujara will look to continue his good form at his local ground in Rajkot next week.
Before the New Zealand series, the right-hander had endured calls to be dropped after poor performances against South Africa and the West Indies, however he seems likely to be a permanent fixture in the XI for the time being, especially considering India’s injury problems. The previous series against England proved desperately disappointing for the Rajkot native, averaging 17.2 across ten innings with only a single half century to show for it. No doubt he will be keen to improve on that record when England come to town next week.
The India captain hardly needs an introduction. Kohli took over the reins from MS Dhoni at the end of 2014 and has positively thrived in the role, with India recording just two losses in 17 Tests under his leadership, against Australia and Sri Lanka. In fact, the home side have not lost any of their last 11 Tests, dating back to August 2015 – these are just two of the many statistics that show how great a challenge the England side face in the next two months. Not only is the 27-year-old a world-class batsman – he averages over 45 in his 48 Tests to date – but he is also a fine fielder.
The captain is another player coming into the series in form, having registered his highest ever Test score of 211 in the final Test against New Zealand and thereby scoring his first Test century in India as captain. Kohli is an aggressive player who has a similar style of play to India great Sachin Tendulkar and, as mentioned above, is very adept and active in the field, making him a fantastic asset to the team. Scorer of 13 Test tons in his career to date, England will do well to keep the captain quiet.
A stand-in captain in India’s ODI and T20 sides for their tour of Zimbabwe last year, Rahane possesses an astonishing record in Test cricket since his debut in March 2013 against Australia. 29 matches, 2209 runs, 8 centuries and 9 half centuries at an average of 51.37. That latter record ranks him as one of the highest-averaging current batsmen in the world and puts him above India legends such as Sunil Gavaskar and Virender Sehwag in the all-time list.
England will be familiar with Rahane’s ability and dexterity after he scored a century in July 2014 to help India to their first win at Lord’s for 28 years. The 28-year-old then scored consecutive fifties in Southampton in an England victory. Let’s hope that Stuart Broad et al. have learnt their lessons since.
Sharma, the least experienced of India’s middle-order despite being the oeldest among them, has so far been unable to transfer his phenomenal record in first-class cricket to the international Test arena. The 29-year-old got off to an excellent start to life in the India team, registering two centuries in his first two Tests. However, those came back in November 2013 and the right-hander has not scored a ton since.
Since the beginning of 2014, Sharma has batted his way to seven half centuries without ever even reaching the nervous nineties and it remains to be seen whether the part-time off-spinner will ever be able to reproduce his outstanding limited-overs performances on the Test stage. His only previous Test appearance against England came in the last series in 2014 and saw the right-hander score just 34 runs across both innings before he injured his finger in the ODI series.
A batsman of dexterity and excellent balance, Sharma always seems to have more time to play his shots than other batsmen do, such is his talent. However his position in the side is perhaps the most vulnerable in the middle order – at 37, his average is significantly lower than the other three batsmen – and Sharma will need to start showing his undoubted class over the next couple of Tests to assure the India selectors that he is worth a spot in the team.
Tomorrow we will take a look at the rest of the India side, namely Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav.