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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 August 2018

Rashid in the spotlight and Kohli has unfinished business: Talking points ahead of first England v India Test

Pitch conditions during an abnormally hot summer have also been part of the discussion in the build-up to the series

Adil Rashid's inclusion in the England Test team has caused quite a debate. Reuters
Adil Rashid's inclusion in the England Test team has caused quite a debate. Reuters

The side who are currently the best travellers in international cricket will meet a team who are famously formidable in home conditions, when India attempt to retain the Pataudi Trophy in England this summer.

The top-ranked tourists have lost on their past two trips to England for a Test series. But they are facing an England side stricken by both inconsistency in the format, and controversy off the field.

Yorkshire ails

Strong Yorkshire, strong England. So goes the old adage about English cricket. So what happens when England’s most successful county side are in crisis?

When Adil Rashid earned a recall to the Test team solely on account of limited-overs form, his county side were less chuffed, more furious.

Michael Vaughan, celebrated Yorkshire and England player of yore, called it ridiculous. Rashid said Vaughan was stupid.

And Geoffrey Boycott, firebrand commentator and celebrated son of the same county, termed Rashid a “spoiled brat” who should not have been recalled. This from someone who, during his own playing days, once went off and played golf mid-Test in a sulk.

The only way Rashid and England can come out of the shemozzle in credit is if he becomes a match-winner with his leg-spin. That has seldom been the case in his 10 Test matches so far.

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Read more:

Paul Radley: England pace bowlers have to click in conditions expected to suit India

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

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Retro selection

England head coach Trevor Bayliss, left, and national selector Ed Smith. Reuters
England head coach Trevor Bayliss, left, and national selector Ed Smith. Reuters

Much was made of the modern methods, based in part on analytics, that Ed Smith would bring to the job when he was appointed as England’s new national selector.

So far, though, it feels entirely retro, like some sort of 1980s/90s time-warp. In the past year, England have handed debuts to 10 players.

Much of that pre-dates Smith’s appointment in April. But he handed new caps to two players – Dom Bess and Tom Curran – in his first two matches, and might be about to do the same in his third, with Jamie Porter newly called up. Then there was the controversial Rashid pick.

The rate of change is up there with the heady days of Ted Dexter’s selection tenancy. Maybe there is a method to the madness. Only wins will prove it.

Indian summer

England bowlers Stuart Broad, left, and James Anderson. Reuters
England bowlers Stuart Broad, left, and James Anderson. Reuters

The UK’s residents are no strangers to hosepipe bans during the summer. The heatwave of 2018 has so far been particularly lengthy and severe, though.

Whether that means the pitches the five Test matches are played on are dry and thus conducive to spin remains to be seen. Logic suggests that England are likely to request the groundsmen prepare wickets which aid seam, given the leader of their attack, James Anderson, is the world’s No 1 bowler.

The next two highest ranked bowlers in the series are India’s spin twins, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravi Ashwin, while young star Kuldeep Yadav is also poised.

Unfinished business

India captain Virat Kohli. Reuters
India captain Virat Kohli. Reuters

It seems ridiculous to think Virat Kohli still has to prove to anyone that he can play a bit.

He is irresistible in the subcontinent. He averages 62, with five centuries to his name, in Australia. He has two centuries in five Tests in South Africa, with an average over 55, and one in two matches in New Zealand, with an average of 71.

He also averaged 109.16 the last time he played England in a five-match Test series, in India two years ago.

But that was out of sight of the British public, who still recall the examination he failed at the hands of England’s pace bowlers in 2014.

His return was paltry back then, and he will be intent on making up for that career blemish this time around.

Batting riches

India batsman Shikhar Dhawan. Reuters
India batsman Shikhar Dhawan. Reuters

Shikhar Dhawan has always cut an enigmatic figure at the top of the Indian batting order. One off game in the warm-up match against Essex, when he bagged two ducks, is unlikely to affect a player who scored a hundred before lunch on Day 1 of a Test only a few weeks ago.

And yet, given the batting riches India have at their disposal, they could quite happily replace him at the top of the order, and go with a different combination instead.

Murali Vijay, who was India’s leading run-scorer – albeit from the middle-order – in this corresponding series four years ago, is a mainstay at the top.

KL Rahul could be a prolific partner for him, were India to cut Dhawan. Rahul score 199 last time these sides met in a Test, in Chennai in 2016, and has been in princely touch, at least in limited-overs cricket, this year.

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