With the five-match Test series between England and India set to begin on August 1, Cricbuzz looks at the numbers and key factors ahead of what promises to be an enthralling series.
Kohli’s Achilles Heel and his arch nemesis
Virat Kohli has been one of the best batsmen across formats in the last four years and one caveat in his claim to greatness has always been his exploits in red-ball cricket in England. He had a forgettable expedition in 2014 to this part of the world, scoring only 134 runs from ten innings at 13.40. His average shot below 40 at the end of that tour for the last time in his career till date and it currently sits at 53.40. India has toured thrice outside Asia since and Kohli was the leading run-getter for his side in each of those three tours – 692 runs in Australia in 2014/15, 251 runs in West Indies in 2016 and 286 runs in South Africa earlier this year. In the home series against England in the 2016/17 season, Kohli aggregated 655 from five Tests at a Bradman-esque 109.17.
Kohli’s downfall in England was largely brought by his profligacy to balls outside off-stump which was exploited largely by James Anderson, who dismissed him four times in 50 balls, all of them nicking behind. In the return series in 2016, Kohli got the better of his arch nemesis scoring 69 runs off 112 balls without getting out. Following Kohli’s 235 in the fourth Test at the Wankhede, Anderson remarked:
“I am not sure if he (Kohli) has changed. I just think any technical deficiencies he has got are not in play out here. The wickets just take that out of the equation. There is not that pace in the wicket to get the nicks, like we did against him in England – with a bit more movement. When that is not there, he is very much suited to playing in these conditions. He is a very good player of spin – and if you are not bang on the money and don’t take your chances, he will punish you.”
Anderson has fired early shots leading to the tournament saying “For India to win here, of course it matters (Kohli scoring big runs). Virat will be desperate to score runs for his team, as you would expect from the captain and one of the best players in the world.” The stakes are high for Kohli as he embarks to breach his final frontier and who comes out on top in the Kohli-Anderson battle will have a major say on which team succeeds.
Pujara’s worrying numbers in England
Like Kohli, another key batsman in India’s top order who could be crucial in blunting England’s new ball attack is Cheteshwar Pujara. His average of 27.31 outside Asia is already a concern and his poor returns in his recent County stints certainly adds to his woes. His last outing in England was a disappointing one as he scored only 222 runs at 22.20, passing 50 just only in ten outings. His four stints with three different counties since have fetched him only 988 runs from 21 Championship games at 29.93. He had a poor Championship in 2018 with Yorkshire. Having said that, the job for Pujara would be to blunt the new ball in case the openers fail to do so and to hold the innings together for the stroke players around him to prosper. In the 30 months since the beginning of 2016, only Steve Smith (125) has faced more deliveries between dismissals than Pujara’s 118 and that will be one thing the team management will be expecting from Pujara.
Pujara’s County Championship stints
India’s pace bowling riches
For once, India enter a series with pace bowling resources which will make the opposition think twice over dishing out green tracks as India have the artillery to retaliate. Since the start of 2017, all the five Indian pacers in the fray average less than 28 per wicket with the ball and strike at regular intervals with Umesh Yadav’s strike rate of 55.39 balls per wicket being the lowest among the five. The absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah are huge blows as the ODI leg of the tour showcased and the management will be hoping to get both back available for the second Test. However, the form of Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav in the Test against Afghanistan and the practice game against Essex is looking good and the former has happy memories playing in England from his last tour. Even the former English skipper Alastair Cook admits:
“They seem to have a good variety of bowlers – pace bowlers – which is probably unusual. And strength and depth in their pace bowling. Certainly in the last 10 years, since I have played against them, they haven’t had the option of playing five or six different types of seamers. That strength and depth in their seamers is different to what I have experienced in the past, but we will see over the next six weeks.”
The slight concern for the management is Mohammed Shami’s fitness and lack of match practice. In the six months after the South African tour in January, he hasn’t played any first-class cricket and his major appearances are limited to two Deodhar Trophy games and five appearances for Delhi Daredevils in the earlier half of IPL 2018. In the three Tests in South Africa, he was a slow starter taking only three wickets at 50.33 (SR 86.00) in the first innings of the three Tests. Comparatively, in the second innings he had way better figures taking 12 wickets at 8.75, striking in less than every 21 balls.
Indian pacers since 2017
Inconsistent England marred with the tendency to collapse
Despite all the talks of England going through a lean patch in Tests, they have done moderately well at home winning four and drawing three rubbers since the 3-1 series win against India in 2014. The issue has been their inconsistency which is substantiated by the fact that they haven’t gone through a sequence of more than three Tests without a loss since January 2015. In the 17 series England have played since Ashes 2013/14, they have lost at least one Test in 16 of those with the only exception being the 2-0 win against a weak Sri Lankan side at home in 2016.
On the other hand, they have really struggled away, losing ten out of the last 13 away Tests, with the other three ending as stalemates. The batting line up has suffered collapses at some stage in their innings in all the Tests they have lost and that will be an issue which will rank high up in the checklist for Trevor Bayliss and Joe Root to address, especially considering this is a five-Test series.
England’s collapses in recent Tests
The onus on Cook and Root again
Another series is set to begin and the English batting line up has yet again wears a familiar unsettled look to it. The burden is again on skipper Joe Root and talisman Alastair Cook to lead the batting. Root has enjoyed playing against India, scoring at least a fifty in each of the 11 Tests against – his favourite opposition. His averages rises to 68.87 against India compared to his career average of 52.28. His problem has been the inability to convert fifties to three-figures, rather than consistency. Since January 2017, Root has gone past fifty 15 times in 28 innings but converted only two of those scores to centuries. However, Root is the only England batsman to average above 40 in the 16 Tests since 2017 (five-plus innings).
On the other hand, Cook has been inconsistent lately with his marathon knocks interspersed with multiple low scores. He has scored two hundreds in 29 innings since 2017 – 243 in Edgbaston and 244* in Melbourne – but failed to cross 25 in 19 other innings. His two partners in this period – Mark Stoneman and Keaton Jennings – have fared worse. In the 29 innings combined, the duo has managed 682 runs at 24.35, with a highest score of 60. England haven’t had a three-figure opening stand since the 103-run stand between Cook and Jennings in Chennai in December 2016. After an unsuccessful stint with Stoneman at the top, England have gone back to Jennings who scored a debut hundred against India in Mumbai in 2016, but found Vernon Philander too hot to handle last home season before getting dropped for the winter tours to the southern hemisphere. England’s average opening stand of 21.45 is the worst among all sides since the start of 2017.
Average opening stands since 2017
The Anderson threat
Anderson is 24 wickets away from going past Glenn McGrath as the leading pacer in Test cricket history and he will certainly have his sights upon the milestone as he gears up to face his favourite opponents in his backyard. In the 12 Tests against India at home, he has picked 60 wickets at 25.88, at the rate of five wickets per Test. He has been in terrific form in recent times, picking 73 wickets in the 16 Tests since 2017 at just 19.11 coupled with a miserly economy rate of 2.35 (only behind Mohammad Amir’s 2.27 for bowlers with 50+ overs). Among quicks, only Kagiso Rabada (103) has taken more wickets in this period..
Anderson will be the biggest threat for Indian batsmen in the upcoming five Tests. He has the number of three of India’s top order batsmen, dismissing both Murali Vijay and Kohli five times each while Pujara has fallen to the Lancashire paceman four times. Whether the 36-year old has it in his body to last the vigours of a five-Test series played over six weeks with little time to recharge the batteries remains to be seen. But Cook is hopeful:
“It amazes me how many times they have managed to get through it (playing long Test series). It’s a testimony to their fitness and ability to soak up the demands of international cricket as a bowler. It’s a big Test for them (Anderson and Broad) and I find it amazing those guys can do what they do after bowling so many times for England.”
India start the five-match series at a venue where no teams from the sub-continent has ever won a Test in 16 attempts – Edgbaston. A loss in the series opener can make Indian players circumspect as they are not renowned for their performances abroad in the current decade. But England’s patchy form combined with an unsettled look to their lineup will keep the spirits in India’s camp high. The series promises to be a cracker.
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