England pace bowlers have to click in conditions where India's batsmen are expected to thrive
India's away Test form has been a key contributor in their status as the world's top team
India’s form anywhere in Test cricket, not just at home, has been so good of late that they likely headed to England for their five-match series full of optimism, no matter the weather.
OK, so the UK is traditionally a daunting proposition for cricketers from the subcontinent, given the support overcast skies and moist pitches generally provide the home team.
Yet since they touched down, Virat Kohli and his fellow tourists will have found things perfectly agreeable. The UK has been gripped by a heatwave for the past month.
Even though rain arrived this week, it remains set fair. The weather.com forecast for Edgbaston for the duration of the first Test suggests fine conditions, with temperatures hovering around 26 or 27 degrees. Temperate for Bangalore, maybe, but boiling for Birmingham.
Chitrabhanu Kadalayil: What India must do to win Test series in England
England v India predictions: Virat Kohli to inspire his side to Test series victory
Chitrabhanu Kadalayil: Kohli can use Dravid-Ganguly heroics in 1996 as inspiration
According to global trends, winning Test series away from home has been increasingly taxing in recent times. India, though, are unique in excelling abroad.
Since the corresponding series four years ago, when England won 3-1, having at first given up a 1-0 deficit, India have maintained a winning record overseas. In the 18 away Tests they have played in the past four years, they have won eight, drawn five and lost five.
It is part of the reason they are way out in front at the top of the ICC’s Test rankings. England, by contrast, are down in fifth, hamstrung by a pitiful away record of their own.
In the 47 Tests they have played overall since the 2014 series, England have lost 22 and won just 18. That is propped up by 14 wins in home Tests from 23 matches.
For the hosts to succeed, they will need to perform way above their recent standards in the long format. Their hitherto misfiring batting line up, it is obvious to say, need to find the sort of big runs that have so far been beyond them.
It is unclear whether that task will be any easier than that of unlocking an all-star Indian batting line up. England’s bowlers might well still be scarred by the savaging they received from the home batsmen when they toured India less than two years ago.
The last time India batted in a Test against England, they racked up an eye-watering 759-7. The time before that, it was 631. And their lowest score in all five first-innings in that 2016 series was 417.
Solutions have not exactly been obvious for England. Hence Ed Smith, the selector, opted to recall Adil Rashid, on the basis of some promising form in limited-overs internationals. The last time he played a Test – in that 759 run-gorge in Chennai – Rashid took 1-153 from 29.4 overs.
The noise surrounding the leg-spinner’s return – and the message it sends out to the county first-class game, given the leg-spinner has opted out of playing that – largely overshadowed the selection of Jamie Porter.
The pace bowler has been handed his chance on the basis of weight of wickets for Essex. His returns have been central to taking them back to the top of the English game. So clearly county cricket has not been ignored entirely.
And Porter, too, might have a vital role to play in his debut series. England’s two pace spearheads, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, are reportedly set to be rotated, given the intense workload ahead.
If each of the five Tests go their full scheduled duration, the two sides are scheduled to play 25 days of cricket with the space of just 42 days.
Anderson turned 36 on Monday, and has been nursing a shoulder injury. Broad, who had an injection in his left ankle recently, is 32. Each has proved durable over the years, and whether either is, in fact, stood down for any time at all should surely depend on how capable the next-in-line is.
If England are to prosper, it feels crucial their pace bowlers will have to click. Emboldened no doubt by the fact they limited him to just 13.4 on average on each trip he made to the crease in England four years ago, England might feel they can dislodge Kohli.
Or at least have greater success then they did when facing him in his back yard the last time the sides met in whites.
“Any technical deficiencies he has got are not in play out here,” Anderson said of Kohli, as he made his highest Test score in Mumbai in 2016.
“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.”
The worry for England is that Kohli is hardly the only prolific run-getter they are to be faced with in the next six weeks.
Updated: July 30, 2018 02:15 PM