5 Bold Predictions for the England vs. India Test Series
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.
1. Alastair Cook Will Score Multiple Centuries
Coming into this series, Alastair Cook has not raised his bat for a century in his past 24 innings. The England skipper has been in an awful rut since the beginning of last year’s Ashes series in England, averaging only 25.
However, this is not the first time Cook has had a prolonged form slump in his career. In 2008/09, he went 27 Test knocks without notching triple figures.
Just two years later, a rejuvenated Cook was on top of the cricket world after guiding England to Ashes glory in Australia (766 runs at 127.67). Now aged 29, he is still young enough and good enough to return to his best form and be a dominant force again.
Whilst he is not currently scoring consistently, there are several indicators that point to him ending his skid and finally delivering some three-digit scores this summer:
1. His record against India
In 15 test matches vs. India, Cook has amassed a total of 1,437 at 55.26. This includes five centuries in 28 innings. With potentially 10 knocks in this series, the England skipper has plenty of opportunities to occupy the crease and score plentifully.
2. India’s sub-standard bowling attack
India’s bowlers have been perennial strugglers over the years on overseas pitches. Whilst they consistently pick up 20 scalps on their home tracks, quality teams have frequently plundered them when they travel abroad. On recent tours they have surrendered 450+ runs on multiple occasions in New Zealand (503 and 680), South Africa (450 and 500) and Australia (659 and 604).
With the return of whipping boy Ishant Sharma (58.18 average in 2011), in addition to a coterie of other bowlers unproven on foreign soil, Cook and colleagues will have a great opportunity to knock around some pedestrian bowling this summer. Their inability to bowl out under-strength Leicestershire and Derbyshire teams in lead-up games is a telling fact, too.
3. Cook’s domestic form
Captain Cook has compiled an impressive haul of runs in this season’s County Championship. In five innings for Essex he has scored 386 runs, including two centuries (127 and 181).
Despite failing on all four occasions against Sri Lanka he did manage to get starts before eventually being dismissed. This was not dissimilar to Ian Bell’s form leading into last year’s summer Test series. Bell’s man-of-the-series performance demonstrates that a bit patience can certainly pay off.
If Cook can start converting his good starts, there is every reason to believe that he can soon return to his prolific run-scoring ways. This would be a most unwelcome development for the Indian team and its supporters.
2. Virat Kohli Will Score 500 Runs
Uncapped in Test cricket last time India toured these shores, Kohli has emerged since then as one of the world’s best. Playing in the middle order, he has now had successful tours of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand—scoring a century in each series.
With only 25 Tests under his belt, Kohli is now one of India’s most experienced Test batsman. Averaging over 50 per innings in India’s last two tours of South Africa and New Zealand, the Delhi-born player has continued to thrive despite the exodus of some of India’s veteran players. His exposure to some of the best bowlers in the world (such as Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander) has only improved his fine batting skills.
Although the above averages were achieved over small samples—four innings apiece—there is every reason to expect that Kohli can deliver the goods in England. Speaking on ESPN Cricinfo, former Indian batsman Sanjay Manjrekar predicted that Kohli will score at least three centuries before the series is over. With five Tests to make his mark, expect him to contribute heavily toward India’s run tallies.
3. The Decision-Review-System (or Lack of It) Will Create Huge Controversy
As a major innovation to the game of cricket, the DRS was first introduced to Test matches back in 2009. After many years of commentators and fans having access to television replays, it was a no-brainer to give officials the same benefit. Its implementation would be panacea to players served injustices by poor umpiring decisions.
Although it still creates much debate—mostly because the technology is not 100 percent accurate—its use has been mostly a success.
Over time, the variety of technology applications at the disposal of officials such as Hawkeye, Hotspot and Snickometer have become increasingly trusted within the cricket community.
However, despite the majority being convinced of its benefit, India has still not embraced the DRS.
With the ICC not making its use compulsory, two opposing teams must agree to the DRS before playing. Whilst England will offer its hand to India before this series, the visitors are unlikely to accept their overture.
The implications of this scenario could be immense. Without the use of DRS, discrete happenings such as missed nicks to the wicketkeeper, or faint inside edges for batsmen given out LBW cannot be challenged. With players unfairly given out (or not), the sense of injustice and the resulting momentum swings will cause huge controversy.
Turn back the clock 12 months to see how crucial the role of DRS has been. With just 15 runs needed to steer Australia to victory in the first Ashes Test, Brad Haddin was caught behind off Jimmy Anderson and erroneously judged not out.
An Alastair Cook forearm punch elicited a review, which confirmed that Haddin had indeed made contact with the ball. An overturned decision sent the Australian to the dressing room and handed England a decisive win.
Without the DRS, a reprieve for the batsman may have led to an Aussie victory and significantly changed the shape of the series. Moments like these may now be unavoidable due to India’s intransigence. As a result, controversy is certain to ensue this summer as cricket takes a small step back in time
4. Matt Prior Will Re-Discover Vintage Form
In the second half of 2013, Matt Prior had a period he would rather forget. Arguably England’s finest ever wicketkeeper-batsman scored only 240 runs at 18.36 in an eight-Test span. His drop in performance, both with the bat and behind the stumps, led to his dropping after the third Ashes Test in Australia. This development was especially poignant as he was the team’s vice-captain.
However, the birth of a new season has enabled the 77-Test veteran to wipe the slate clean. A quick return to form sees him poised to soon return to his influential ways.
In his first domestic game for Sussex this year, Prior scored 125 against Middlesex. He continued this momentum into the Sri Lanka series with a fine innings of 86 at Lords. He looked much like the dominant stroke-maker of old in this knock, which included 10 boundaries.
Prior has also had success in the past against India. On their last tour he scored 271 runs at 67.75.
Now aged 32, Prior is far from too old to have a career renaissance. This past winter, 36-year-old wicketkeeper Brad Haddin (493 runs) enjoyed the best series of his career. Prior may not compile as many runs as his Australian counterpart, but he could have a profound impact on this series. The emergence of his understudy Jos Buttler should also provide Prior with sufficient motivation to perform.
5. The Weather and Coin Toss Will Have a Big Impact
Over a five-Test series weather is bound to make an impact at some point. After all, this is England.
Last year, Mother Nature was on England’s side with intervening rain at Old Trafford and The Oval foiling Australia’s bids to win on both occasions. Repeated stoppages in the latter Test also led to a bold declaration by Michael Clarke on the final day. This gave England a sniff of victory, which Kevin Pietersen nearly seized with one of his signature knocks.
Similarly unpredictable, the opening morning coin tosses could also have huge implications on this series. Recent history with England shows a strong correlation between winning the toss and winning the game. Their three Test victories last summer against Australia all came after winning the toss. When fortune went Michael Clarke’s way, England only managed two draws, which could have easily been defeats. After the Ashes shifted over to Australia, four consecutive toss wins for the hosts all led to victories.
With the pitches potentially favouring batting or bowling, the correct call of "heads" or "tails" could significantly swing games towards the team making the choice.
All stats in this article are courtesy of espncricinfo.com
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