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England’s Tour of India 2021: A Brief Preview

Rohan Agarwal, Undergraduate Batch of 2023

After the euphoric victory over Australia in one of the best Test series of all time, the Indian Cricket team return to the subcontinent to host England in a two-month-long series. England’s tour of India is one that has everyone’s attention as India look to secure qualification to the World Test Championship finals and also ramp up their preparation for the ICC T20 World Cup later this year.

The victorious Indian Team pose with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2021

With all the lessons learnt and experience gained from the Australia series, The Edict looks to cover some key talking points in the build-up to two months of eagerly anticipated cricket.

The Captaincy Dilemma

Virat Kohli’s position as the Indian team captain has been a topic of great discussion for almost a year now. As the team prepared for the limited over series versus Australia, there was abundant criticism from all corners about whether Kohli was the man to lead India to an ICC title, with many suggesting Rohit Sharma was deserving of an opportunity.

This argument gained further traction when Ajinkya Rahane, Kohli’s deputy, led the Indian team to a historic Test Series title as the regular captain flew back home due to the birth of his first child.

Virat Kohli celebrates after his 235 versus England in the 4th Test of the 2016/17 home series

With the Series win in the bag, many players and staff members have come to their Captain’s aid and shed light on his underrated and behind-the-scenes contribution to India’s recent success. Rahane himself has clarified that there is nothing but respect and harmony in the squad and reiterated that he is happy to remain Kohli’s deputy.

Kohli already boasts the highest win percentage as an Indian Test captain and should he win two games in this home series versus England, he will surpass MS Dhoni’s record of most Test wins on home soil, (21). Accomplishing this record will statistically make him India’s most successful home Test captain, but it remains to be seen if it stops the questions about his leadership once and for all, and what the next step will be for this talented team and their skipper.

What next for Rishabh Pant?

Life comes at you fast when you are a young, 23-year-old, high-profile wicket-keeper trying to replace the beloved MS Dhoni for the Indian national team. It was only a few months ago that Pant was heavily criticized for a dismal Indian Premier League (IPL) campaign. The dashing southpaw was also axed from the Indian limited overs side and carried drinks during the first Test versus Australia as well.

However, it was his patience and maturity, the lack of which has repeatedly brought him criticism, that saw him get through this blip in his career and eventually prove to be a national hero. There is no doubt now that Pant adds the required dynamism and versatility to an otherwise stable and set Test team.

Rishabh Pant scored an impressive 97(118) in the fourth innings of the Sydney Test versus Australia

There has been a lot of talk, however, about his woes behind the stumps and whether he will be able to cope with the turning Indian pitches. Wriddhiman Saha had been tipped to don the gloves, but Pant’s recent showings have made him simply undroppable and India are expected to stick with him on domestic surfaces, despite the bumpy ride that potentially awaits him.

The most interesting question regarding Pant at the moment is whether he has proven enough to get another chance in the ODI and T20I sides. As the World T20 loom over our heads, Pant will be hoping to get another chance after his recent displays and prove he deserves a spot in the team.

India’s newfound bowling attack

The hardships faced by India unexpectedly turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the three debutants of the fourth Test proved to be valuable assets for the team. To get a result at the daunting Gabba with an inexperienced pace-attack consisting of T. Natarajan, Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini and Mohammed Siraj is no cakewalk. Washington Sundar, too, was a breath of fresh air in this squad as his impact was as telling as the others if not more.

Before the series, with the absence of Ishant Sharma and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, India’s bowling attack was termed as young and raw. Several questions were asked if they would have been able to give the mighty Aussies a fight. Two months later, the fans and everyone involved with the team have a new-found confidence in this extremely talented bowling attack.

While Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah are fully fit and ready to play, there are still a couple of spots to fight for and all hope isn’t lost for these debutants who performed beyond everyone’s expectations on foreign pitches. Siraj was India’s most successful bowler in the series and should India choose to field three pacers, Siraj could be the one to take that spot ahead of the rest of the pack.

Ravi Ashwin, too, has returned to the team after sitting out the final test versus Australia with a back injury. On turning pitches like the one at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in his home-town Chennai, Ashwin is likely to be partnered with Kuldeep Yadav, while Axar Patel and Sundar remain decent shouts as well, as they provide extra options with both bat and ball.

What do England have in store for the hosts?

Many have criticised England for picking a rather weakened squad for the first two Test matches. Mark Wood, Sam Curran and Jonny Bairstow have all been rested, while Jos Buttler will reportedly leave the English camp after the first Test.

England selector Ed Smith has defended the decision by saying that in these testing times of bio-bubbles and frequent matches, it is not easy for players to play a prolonged series of matches and that rest is critical for the entire team in the long run. It is a decision that is not entirely wrong, because the players that have replaced the rested ones are just as good if not better, with the likes of Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer returning to the squad after a short break.

The role played by England’s spin partnership of Jack Leach and Dom Bess should be critical once again if England are to take anything from this series. The duo had been particularly impressive in the Sri Lankan series, taking 10 and 12 wickets respectively. Control and patience over long spells will be key as they take on a much more composed and competent batting unit of India.

Joe Root could prove to be a problem for India on the back of an impressive series versus Sri Lanka

Since the onset of the pandemic, England have played the most Test Cricket out of all the top sides and as a result, have had an ample amount of time to try, experiment and develop a winning system. Their away series win versus Sri Lanka is certainly a stellar achievement and captain Joe Root, will be crucial if they are to take something home from the India series. In 4 innings against the Lankans, Root made 426 runs at an average of 106.5. He remains one of the most talented cricketers going around at the moment, is an excellent player of spin bowling and in that kind of form, he will be vital for England’s chances in the subcontinent.

India is likely to go into this home series with a great amount of confidence and will hope to replicate the 3-0 win from the last time England visited home soil and in turn qualify for the

World Test Championship finals. They will also look to focus on the 5-match T20 Series, experiment and try new combinations with the IPL and T20 World Cup around the corner.

There is an element of happiness and pride among the Indian team as well as its fans, and they has proven that they have the ability to fight through the toughest of odds and scale the highest of peaks. Can they do it one more time and continue their excellent start to 2021?

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