Time to take England on a spin

Chennai, February 4

A confident India will aim to soar high with the return of Virat Kohli when the four-Test series against England starts here tomorrow, with both teams bidding to qualify for the World Test Championship final.

International cricket returns to India after the Covid-19 break and it couldn’t have been bigger than a series against a world-class side which is led by a modern day great in Joe Root.

Root would be playing his 100th Test match and the team also features the most respected new ball attack in contemporary cricket besides having the game’s best all-format all-rounder.

And in the middle of all this will Kohli leading a side which would be expected to present another enthralling show after a stunning come-from-behind series win in Australia. But in England, they face a team that in the last 15 years is the only one to have won a Test series in the subcontinent, having beaten India 2-1 in 2012.

In Root, they have a player who knows a thing or two about how to tackle spinners on subcontinental turners, as he showed during the just-concluded Sri Lanka series. James Anderson, the world’s highest wicket-taking seam bowler, will again test Rohit Sharma’s patience and Shubman Gill’s technique using the pronounced seam of the red SG Test while preparing a tough set of questions in the corridor of uncertainty for the Indian captain. Jofra Archer would like to use the bouncer sparingly and Ben Stokes wouldn’t mind if the old ball reverses a bit.

Respect England

“Australia series is past now. We have to respect the England side and take one match at a time,” said India’s vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, back in his familiar role but perhaps with a lot more responsibility after emerging as a leader during the Australia series.

India would need to guard themselves against complacency, which can creep in after a triumph such as the one in Australia. So, after batting on firm, even bouncy Australian tracks, it’s time for them to adjust to the red soil traditional Chennai pitch which will have bounce on the first day and start helping the spinners from the third day. One might find Cheteshwar Pujara shedding his combative “take body blows” style to a slightly more attacking one on a track where the ball won’t be consistently flying above the waist level.

The Indian batsmen are likely to enjoy an upper-hand against the England slow bowlers as save Moeen Ali, the others — off-spinner Dom Bess and left-arm spinner Jack Leach — haven’t had the experience of bowling against a formidable Indian batting line-up. Against the old ball, one might see India unleashing Rishabh Pant, who on his day can murder any bowling line-up.

Bumrah at home

Jasprit Bumrah will be making a different kind of debut — he has played 17 Tests so far since his debut against South Africa in 2018, but this would be his first at home.

Ishant Sharma, in his last Test appearance nearly a year back, claimed a five-wicket in New Zealand but hasn’t played a red-ball game since then. And Mohammed Siraj’s gutsy performance Down Under can’t be forgotten, so it will be a tough call for Kohli to decide between Siraj and Ishant. India are likely to play three spinners and Axar Patel, who has always been dubbed as “poor man’s Ravindra Jadeja”, is in contention to get his maiden Test cap. Ravichandran Ashwin picks himself while Kuldeep Yadav, being a wrist-spinner, is an attacking option that skipper Kohli would fancy. — Agencies, TNS

Form guide

In their last 5 Tests, India have won 2, lost 2 and drawn 1. Engalnd have won 4 and drawn 1

Numbers game

9 Tests India and England have played in Chennai. In their last meeting at the venue, in 2016, India won by an innings and 75 runs

3 Test victories for England in Chennai. Their last win at Chepauk came in 1984-85

8 Consecutive Test wins for India at home since 2018, including 6 victories by an innings

70 Points needed by India from the four-Test series to qualify for the the World Test Championship final. A 2-1 series victory — fetching them 30 points for each win, and 10 points for a draw — will see India through

100 th Test for England captain Joe Root. The 30-year-old made his debut against India in Nagpur in December 2012. England had claimed a historic 2-1 win in the series


“The Chepauk pitch looks good to bat on, but I think it will also have something for the quicks. The combination we have had in the past, where players can bat and bowl, will be our outlook going forward.” — Virat Kohli, India captain

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