NEW DELHI: England are due to arrive in India Wednesday for a five-match series against the world’s number one side, chastened by a first ever Test defeat against cricket’s traditional whipping boys, Bangladesh.
In contrast India, after whitewashing New Zealand, are shaping up nicely as they seek to end a run of three successive series defeats against the visitors.
AFP Sports looks at some of the issues facing both sides before the first Test in Rajkot on November 9:
England in a spin
After their top order was bamboozled by Bangladeshi rookie Mehedi Hasan, England now have to contend with the world’s number one spinner, Ravichandran Ashwin. Their top five all averaged less than 25 in the two Tests and none of them looked comfortable against Hasan, who took 19 wickets. Gary Ballance’s place looks particularly vulnerable after scoring just 23 runs during the series. With Ashwin and a much-improved Ravindra Jadeja guaranteed a place, India’s selectors will be tempted to call up veteran Amit Mishra as part of a three-pronged spin attack. The 33-year-old leggie took 5-18 at the weekend as India skittled New Zealand for just 79 in the final ODI. Batting great Sunil Gavaskar is among those calling for three spinners against England, saying Mishra is a proven wicket-taker and not just someone who can dry up an end.
Off the pace
Ben Stokes impressed with 11 wickets but England’s pacemen were otherwise disappointing in Bangladesh, doing little to dispel the suspicion they will struggle without their totem Jimmy Anderson in India. Anderson took more wickets than any other pace bowler on either side when England won the 2012 series in India, but a shoulder problem has sidelined him this time round — although he still hopes to play some part in the series. His long-time partner Stuart Broad should win his 100th Test cap in Rajkot but has a poor record on the sub-continent and was dropped in 2012 after going wicketless in the first two Tests. His replacement Steven Finn was also called up for the second Bangladesh Test but looked largely innocuous.
Despite their impressive 3-0 clean sweep over New Zealand in their Test series, India still have some nagging concerns — particularly their lack of a reliable opening partnership. Despite trying out five different combinations in their last 14 Tests, India have failed to record a century partnership at the top of the order in that time. The normally swashbuckling Shikhar Dhawan, who missed the last Test with a thumb injury, has scored a solitary fifty in his last eight Tests and his place is in jeopardy. Murali Vijay looks best placed to nail down a slot despite scoring just 45 runs in his last four innings against New Zealand.
It’s the best part of a decade since India’s last series victory over England, and Mishra is the only member of the line-up back in those heady days of 2008 expected to play in Rajkot. Star batsman Virat Kohli was among those who struggled when India toured England in 2014, scoring just 134 runs in five Tests at an average of 13.40. Ashwin meanwhile took just three wickets in two Tests before being dropped. Lack of confidence is not usually an issue with Kohli, now India’s skipper, but he will want a big score early on to avoid doubts creeping in.
Umpires under review
The series will be the first India has agreed to play using the decision review system (DRS), albeit on a trial basis. India’s board says its previous doubts have been largely addressed by improvements in technology. But the Bangladesh-England series highlighted how TV replays can become a double-edged sword by undermining umpires’ confidence. Forty-two decisions were reviewed in the two Tests and Sri Lanka’s Kumar Dharmasena had 13 of his onfield decisions overturned by the third umpire. As well as raising questions about the officials’ competence, the constant scrutiny sucked some of the drama from the series as so many decisions went upstairs.