Tears On My Pilau? India Series Preview

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.

James Morgan

2018-07-24T16:13:57+00:00July 24th, 2018|Eng v Ind 2018, Test Cricket|18 Comments


  1. James July 24, 2018 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    I’m really looking forward to this too (despite some awful headlines trying to put me off!). I’m guessing Bhuvi Kumar will bowl a lot better than he did in the last ODI, and could be a real new ball threat. I agree about Pujara, Kohli and Rahane, but wonder who will keep wicket (I understand Saha isn’t fit). I’d go with either KL Rahul or Pant, rather than Dhoni. Rahul might well open ahead of Dhawan too: bit less likely to nick off early.

    England appear far less settled. I’d go with Moeen in England, which allows us to play Woakes or Wood, and have plenty of batting available (I’m assuming here that Stokes will be able to bowl). I would anticipate a left field selection somewhere along the line (indicative of an unsettled side), possibly Rory Burns.

    • James Morgan July 24, 2018 at 7:12 pm - Reply

      If you thought today’s headline was awful you should’ve seen the ones I rejected 🙂

  2. James July 24, 2018 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    If Jennings plays ahead of Burns, especially after this week, then I’ll be more than a little bit annoyed.

    • Doug M July 24, 2018 at 5:31 pm - Reply

      James I agree. Having just watched Surrey roll over Notts in 2&half days, Burns is a mile better than Jennings. Don’t want to lose him but….
      Broad played in this game and apart from one spell was poor, too wide and very hittable for the in form Surrey batsman. Ball looks miles away from a Test bowler as well.
      Spin? Best spinner in the country is Virdi because he attacks and actually gives the ball a rip. A bit young yet perhaps though. Can’t bat.
      Want a good seamer? Ok I’m a Surrey supporter but Rikki Clarke is having a golden spell. Bowling and batting. Scored a century at no 8 yesterday.
      Who will win the Tests? India, because we can’t play top quality spin. Why, because the ECB schedule 2 championship matches in 6 weeks in glorious weather and play t20 only. What a bloody waste of A cricketing summer.
      A few thoughts!

      • James Dodsworth July 25, 2018 at 9:21 am - Reply

        I’m a Surrey fan as well, but I’m not convinced Clarke is good enough to warrant a place at his age. Yes he’s in a fantastic run of form but I get the feeling class batsman wouldn’t be too troubled by him.

    • SDHoneymonster July 24, 2018 at 5:59 pm - Reply

      They’re not going to drop Jennings one game after recalling him, especially as Burns didn’t go so well for the Lions. I’m not sure there’s too much between them as batsmen either: despite batting for most of his career at Durham Jennings actually has more first class 100s than Burns from a similar number of games (101 for Burns, 107 for Jennings – 7 of those being Tests), who gets to bat on the road that is The Oval for half the season. I also think there’s more than meets the eye to the Jennings selection too; he’s rated highly as a potential captain by all accounts, much like Buttler, and there’s no coincidence that both were called into the team by Smith when Root is looking as if he’s struggling to balance the demands of captaincy and run scoring, in my opinion anyway; Smith is trying to groom some viable alternatives if it becomes clear Root has to step down. I imagine that if Jennings has a poor start to the series though then Burns is next in line.

      • Simon H July 25, 2018 at 8:24 am - Reply

        There’s a big puff-piece about Jennings in the DM. No way would that happen if he’s about to be dropped.

      • Growltiger July 26, 2018 at 7:27 am - Reply

        The biggest argument against Burns is his crouching stance, which looks so odd, and I expect old selectorial hands will have sucked their teeth a bit at his tendency to walk across his stumps to flick into the leg side. But it works and he can leave on line, unlike some others. Also, unlike Jennings, he is an actual captain rather than one of those captains in waiting. Pretty good too. By the way, the best news story of the day is that they are considering Pope as cover for Stokes.

      • Growltiger July 26, 2018 at 7:41 am - Reply

        Addendum concerning Burns. He has played three matches at the Oval this season averaging 58 with 1 century. Away from the Oval he has played 5 matches averaging 83 with 2 centuries. The road argument doesn’t seem particularly compelling as a reason for preferring Jennings (or anyone else, for that matter).

  3. Paul July 24, 2018 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    I’m guessing Dhawan & Vijay will open, and Pant will be the wicketkeeper because he is the specialist keeper, KL Rahul is only a part time keeper. Dhoni doesn’t play a test matches anymore I think. If Bhuvi is fit, then he should be there, otherwise I’d pick Shami, Umesh & Ishant, and Ashwin as the spinner (possibly Jadeja will play too),Kuldeep is still too raw for test cricket IMO.

    BTW James, it’s Pulao, not Pilau.

    • James Morgan July 24, 2018 at 7:11 pm - Reply

      Depends whether you’re using an authentic spelling or not. My local India calls it ‘pilau’.

      • marees July 24, 2018 at 7:56 pm - Reply

        But why Pilaf/Pilav/Pilau/Pulau/Pulao?
        You could have mentioned Biryani, no?
        Or do you consider them both the same? That would be like comparing the Hundred to Test match cricket

    • James July 25, 2018 at 7:16 am - Reply

      Paul, I’ve never been a fan of Ishant. A bowling average over 35 tells its own story. If fit, I’d go for Bhuvi, Shami and Yadav, with Ashwin and Sir Jadeja as the spinners.
      Dhawan for me is too flirty outside off to open in England (Sehwag had this problem too): Rahul I think would be a better bet (with Vijay). Then Pujara, Kohli, Rahane looks strong (on paper), with Pant at 6. I agree about Kuldeep. I think England had worked him out by the 3rd ODI.
      If India are serious about this series (never a certainty with test series outside India, but the signs, in terms of preparation, are good), I think they can win it.

  4. Simon H July 24, 2018 at 7:05 pm - Reply

    Can’t get very excited about this series I’m afraid – I’m starting by assuming India will be piss-poor outside Asia, add the general uselessness of away teams these days, and top it off with India’s atrociousness on their last two England tours. I’d rather be watching NZ (for example) and will soon drift off if the series looks uncompetitive.

    Jonathan Liew has written a good broadside on the ECB at the Independent (I won’t link it as this ‘link tax’ hasn’t gone away and they’re coming back to it in September with making it retrospective part of the intention). It’s a pity nobody in the press corps was writing things like it in the previous decade and maybe the ECB wouldn’t be the beserk behemoth that it now is.

  5. AndyB July 24, 2018 at 10:00 pm - Reply

    I suspect the only two decisions in any doubt are the 3rd seamer and spinner – and the case for Leach as spinner is overwhelming unless the selectors want a spinning all rounder who will be cannon fodder for Indian batsmen who can play spin all day (think Ali or Bess). If the spinner is Leach that reinforces Woakes case as 3rd seamer as he batting will need reinforcement. Normally I would have Woakes as my first name on the sheet (much more reliable than Stokes and balances the side), but I am not convinced he is yet fully back from his injury (it my have healed but is he match sharp?). However, none of the alternatives to Woakes make any real case. Curran is a bowler of dibbly dobblies and Wood is now only a fast medium bowler following all his own injury problems (and gets little deviation). If it is not Woakes I would prefer either Willey (as a leftie who does swing it) or, on the basis that if they are good enough they are old enough, Henry Brooks. I can imagine the howls, but an 18 year old who can bowl at 90mph and get it to seam is the real future of the England seam attack. The only good reason to prefer Fisher to Brooks for the recent Lions game was to keep him under wraps for the real action.

  6. Marc Evans July 24, 2018 at 10:35 pm - Reply

    The England team for the first test will, I suspect, pick itself on the back of the recent Pakistan series. The alternatives to the usual suspects are few and I suspect Ed Smith will give another chance to those picked earlier in the season before risking branching out into the unknown. It would be great from a Warwick man’s point of view to pick one of our quickies, but there is no tradition of selectors in this country going for early developers like the Aussies do.
    India looked good on this tour till put under pressure and then became a rudderless group of individuals lacking the spunk to fight back, being used to rolling everyone over. As many have said if we can blunt their spinnners and get some early wickets we have a real chance. As so often in sport confidence will be the defining factor. India must be a expecting to win, we have to get into them early and put doubts in their minds. In order to do this Anderson will be the key. No other English bowler has his talent and self belief. Is he going to be match fit enough to peak straight away?

  7. Comte July 26, 2018 at 6:47 am - Reply

    I will be surprised if this series turns out to be a corker. I don’t think either team is as good as they think they are. I’m fairly sure that England’s selection will look very familiar.
    But I hope it’s good ‘cos we need some real cricket after all the endless meaningless limited overs stuff that’s been foisted on us.

  8. James July 26, 2018 at 12:43 pm - Reply

    For those who haven’t seen it, here’s the England squad for the first test. Joe Root (capt), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler, Alastair Cook, Sam Curran, Keaton Jennings, Dawid Malan, Jamie Porter, Adil Rashid, Ben Stokes.
    Given that you suspect the ECB “encouraged” Rashid to sign a white ball contract, his selection seems odd, to say the least. Jamie Porter, excellent county bowler though he is, is surely not quick enough to play international cricket.
    Someone needs to buy Ed Smith a new computer!

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