England and India will renew their cricket rivalry this Wednesday as they face-off at Trent Bridge in the first of five Tests. With the teams currently separated by one place in the ICC world rankings (fourth vs. fifth), this promises to be another absorbing series, adding to the many memorable encounters over the years.
Each team is entering the first match at low ebbs after losing their previous two test series. Following the Ashes thrashing last winter, England had a chance to reboot against Sri Lanka last month. However, falling on the penultimate ball of the series condemned them to further misery. This dramatic defeat—their first ever in a series against Sri Lanka on home soil—demonstrates how deep their descent into cricket mediocrity has been over the past nine months.
On the other side, India are somewhat of a cricketing enigma. Their contrasting success at home vs. failure away is one of the game’s most puzzling dichotomies. They continue to be a dominant force on Indian soil having been defeated only once—notably by England in 2012—in their last 17 Test series. But their performances abroad in recent times have been the polar opposite. A three-year winless streak—including 10 losses and two draws—has culminated in four straight road series defeats. This dismal run of results abroad is no better than England’s recent dire performances.
India’s barren run began on their last visit to these shores in 2011. But given the considerable changes to their squad since then it would be folly to use that 0-4 series result as any kind of form guide. A handful of retirements—some long overdue—has substantially altered the make-up of their team. Iconic names such as Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh no longer feature on the Indian scorecard, though not all have retired.
Led by returning skipper MS Dhoni, the new squad possesses some immensely talented players who have already proven themselves at the international level. Several that are slated to play in this series, such as Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay, played big roles in the team that dismantled Australia (4-0) in India 16 months ago. However, their ability to perform on the vastly different decks of England remains highly unproven.
The England team has also recently entered a new epoch. Players they once depended on, including Pietersen, Trott and Swann are no longer at their disposal. Pietersen may be missed the most, as he was a dominant force in the 2011 series (533 runs at 106.60). With half of the batting line-up recycled from just a year ago, newcomers Ben Stokes (four caps), Gary Ballance (three caps), Sam Robson (two caps) and Moeen Ali (two caps) are all fresh to the Test scene. The visitors are certain to try and exploit their inexperience in this series.
Key players currently under injury clouds are another potential source of English concern. Recent reports in The Telegraph indicated that England’s best two fast bowlers, Stuart Broad (knee) and Jimmy Anderson (undisclosed), are both carrying niggles. With an incredible haul of 46 Indian wickets between them in 2011, the aforementioned pair was an integral part of England’s success and hopes will be high that this form can be replicated.
With both teams desperate to surge upwards in the world rankings, the stage is set for a gruelling tussle. Although neither side enters on top of their game, momentum can build very quickly in modern cricket. Just 12 months ago, who would have anticipated Australia’s recent success and rapid rise to world No. 1?
It will be fascinating to see how this series unfolds. The following slides contain my bold predictions.