After what seems like an eternity, test cricket returns to the English summer this week. This means that results, rather than having a good time, suddenly matter. The serious stuff is about to start folks.
What’s more, this upcoming series against India should be a humdinger. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to it. Although I’ll be on an enforced holiday for some of it – don’t worry I’m moving house rather than on gardening leave – I’ll do my best to populate the blog with news and reaction.
I think this series will be really close. I love the look of India’s side on paper, and if the weather stays hot and the pitches dry, then I really think the visitors could triumph. We all know what the likes of Ashwin and Jadeja can do if conditions suit them, and we can’t ignore the fact that England’s spinning cupboard is as bare as the pitches might be.
Although India don’t have a settled opening partnership, their side still contains a lot of incredibly talented cricketers. Pujara and Kohli are world class, Rahane is a personal favourite of mine, Vijay has a pretty decent record too, and although he hasn’t enjoyed much success in England I have a feeling that Dhawan might score a few runs if selected.
India’s seam bowling has also improved a great deal in recent times. I’ve always rated Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav has pace, and Ishant Sharma is capable of big performances. The latter has got some county cricket under his belt which might help his performances, even if he has never really lived up to the early hype.
Thereafter, we can expect Ashwin and Jadeja to apply some real pressure on England’s batsmen. Ashwin will always have critics who claims he isn’t effective overseas, but he’s bowled pretty bloody well for Worcestershire in the past. I think he’ll be a handful at best and keep it very tight at worst.
As for England I’m not quite sure what to say. The team has talent but also more holes than the ECB’s Hundred concept. Keaton Jennings is under pressure, Joe Root doesn’t know where to bat, Alastair Cook isn’t making centuries like he used to, Ben Stokes hasn’t rediscovered his best form yet, Dawid Malan is beginning to look like a one-series wonder, and Jonny Bairstow seems to score more runs in ODIs than red ball cricket these days.
So who, exactly, can England rely on? Fortunately there’s still Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad to turn to. The former loves bowling at Kohli in home conditions and their personal duel could prove decisive. Meanwhile Broady should be feeling fresh after his recent commentary stints. The only caveat, however, is that neither bowler is particularly effective (even at home) if the decks are as flat as UK economic growth forecasts.
The identity of England’s third seamer will probably remain a mystery until the XI actually takes the field. Will it be Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Sam Curran, or even Craig Overton? Your guess is as good as mine although I fancy that Ed Smith will probably prefer Woakes’s reliability in English conditions. There would be no arguments from me if this is the case.
Thereafter it gets a little tricky. Dom Bess is the man in possession but he won hearts rather than wickets against Pakistan. Is he really a test quality slow bowler right now? Probably not although he obviously has potential. Then there’s Jack Leach who probably would’ve played against Pakistan if fit. If it was up to me then the latter would play as he’s more mature as a first class spinner.
If one looks beyond the Somerset duo then things get even trickier. After enjoying Jos Buttler’s success against Pakistan, many now believe that white ball form can translate into test cricket. Personally I disagree. Rashid is a decent leggie but I refuse to support the inclusion of a player who has officially turned his back on red ball cricket. Jos Buttler might have been tempted to give up playing first class cricket but he never actually did it. Rashid has.
Although some might say Rashid’s decision to quit test cricket was partly down to his mistreatment by the selectors – and I won’t argue with that – I can’t ignore the fact that he quit on the county championship too. I bet Yorkshire supporters weren’t amused. Consequently I would be against recalling him to the test side as it would set an awful precedent.
The other option, of course, is good old Moeen Ali. We shouldn’t forget that Moeen bowled beautifully the last time India played a test series in England. In fact, Moeen’s record in England is pretty impressive overall. However, do we really want to do back there? I would much prefer England to develop a spinner who can excel abroad too. After all, we play half our test matches overseas. And we’ll never be taken seriously as a world class test team unless we start winning games abroad.
Winning overseas, or at least outside Asia, is also India’s biggest challenge. Their No.1 ICC ranking really doesn’t mean a great deal unless they can win in places like England and Australia. Therefore, one suspects this is possibly their best chance to win a significant victory overseas. England are vulnerable and they know it. So will Kohli’s team be good enough to capitalise?
As for England, this series offers a good opportunity to prove they’re not at such a low ebb after all. Victory against what is technically the world’s No.1 test team will be portrayed as a huge achievement (rightly or wrongly) and give the ECB some breathing space after the continued embarrassment of The Hundred.
Personally I’m not sure a win would mean that much, however. England are usually very good at home, and we’d expect to beat India pretty comfortably with home advantage – just like India usually dispatch England with aplomb in the subcontinent. The very fact that some people are tipping India to win this series speaks volumes.
If England do manage to win, it’s also vital that some of the less experienced players play a major role. If it’s all down to Anderson, Broad, and Cook, who might not be playing the next time India tour Blighty, then the future will still look pretty bleak. Therefore, I think it’s vital that the likes of Jennings, Malan, and Leach make an impact.
It’s also pretty important for Jos Buttler to look good and make some match winning scores. When Jos first played test cricket a few years ago he got off to a similarly spectacular start. But then he fizzled out and was eventually dropped. England desperately need him to cement his test credentials this time because the team needs quality batsmen and fast.
If I was picking the team I’d promote Buttler above the all-rounders to 5 in the order (which is where a specialist batsman should bat). This would enable us to find out whether he can really hack it in test cricket. If Jos can prove his mettle then England have finally found a vital piece in the jigsaw that’s been missing since Ian Bell retired.
And talking of Ian Bell, what chance of a recall? Just kidding.