NOTTINGHAM: Batters on both sides are set to face a stiff examination when an England side missing Ben Stokes takes on India in the first Test at Trent Bridge in Nottingham starting on Wednesday.
Although England captain Joe Root boasts an impressive Test average of 48.68, the next best in his side belongs to opener Rory Burns, with 33.23.
Zak Crawley in particular has seen his Test returns decline dramatically since making a brilliant 267 against Pakistan, with a mere 123 runs in 12 subsequent innings.
Following England’s 1-0 series loss to New Zealand in June — their first home campaign reverse in seven years — former captain Alastair Cook said the current top order ‘can’t handle’ the pressure of Test cricket.
There are worries too about India’s batters ahead of a five-match campaign that comes 50 years after the tourists’ first series win in England.
India captain and star batsman Virat Kohli has not scored a Test hundred in nearly two years, while opener Mayank Agarwal was ruled out of the first Test with suspected concussion after being hit on the head batting in the nets on Monday.
Cheteshwar Pujara, meanwhile, averages under 30 in England.
And Ajinkya Rahane, since kick-starting India’s stunning revival during their eventual series win in Australia last year with 112 in Melbourne, has passed fifty just once in 13 subsequent Test innings.
Just as India prepared pitches favouring their spinners during a 3-1 win at home to England earlier this year, it would be no surprise were a green surface designed to maximise the skills of veteran England new-ball duo Stuart Broad — playing on his Nottinghamshire home ground — and James Anderson to be on show this week.
Anderson, England’s all-time leading wicket-taker, has an especially brilliant Test record at Trent Bridge, with 64 wickets in 10 matches at under 20 apiece.
India, however, also have an impressive seam attack featuring the likes of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Siraj.
“We expect England to give us such wickets, this is their home conditions,” said vice-captain Rahane, with India having been in England for several weeks since a World Test Championship final loss to New Zealand. “We are not too worried about what wickets they are giving us. We are ready.”
The series may be decided by which team copes best with the Covid-19 restriction surrounding players on both sides.
Root requires a mere 22 runs to succeed Cook as his country’s top run scorer in all formats, and is just one win away from surpassing Michael Vaughan’s record of 26 as England’s Test captain.
Root, while acknowledging the value of personal runs, said: “Test cricket is not about you as an individual. It is about winning for England and contributing to something bigger than yourself.”
ENGLAND: Joe Root (captain), James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Sam Curran, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Dom Sibley, Mark Wood.
INDIA: Virat Kohli (captain), Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Ravindra Jadeja, Rishabh Pant, Axar Patel, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, K.L. Rahul, Wriddhiman Saha, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Prithvi Shaw, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, Hanuma Vihari, Umesh Yadav, Suryakumar Yadav.
Umpires: Richard Kettleborough (England) and Michael Gough (England).
TV umpire: Richard Illingworth (England).
Match referee: Chris Broad (England).
Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2021