Will Virat Kohli join the select band of Indian skippers who have won Test series in England? Given this year’s warm and dry summer in Ol’ Blighty, can Team India overcome England, in its backyard, to win the five-Test series coming up in August-September 2018?
Ajit Wadekar, Kapil Dev and Rahul Dravid are considered to be legendary captains because they are the only ones to have led India to Test series wins in England, ever since the Indians played their first ever Test match at Lord’s in June 1932. Kapil Dev, besides leading India to that momentous Prudential World Cup win in 1983, marshaled India to victory in two out of the three Tests in 1986. Wadekar’s and Dravid’s teams won one Test each in 1971 and 2007 respectively.
Sourav Ganguly, who is revered for his leadership, is the only Indian skipper to have drawn a series in England, in 2002. In the new millennium, the Indian team, with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Virendra Sehwag, VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh etc. besides Ganguly, Dravid and Kohli in its ranks has played 16 Test matches in England, winning three and losing eight. Therefore, despite pundits saying that the present Indian team is one of the best ever in terms of talent, Kohli has a tough task at hand.
India is set to play a five-Test series in England only for the third time in 86 years. Besides the full series in 2014, under Dhoni, India had played a five-test series in 1959 in Ol’ Blighty under the captaincy of Datta Gaekwad; England, led by Peter May, had then blanked India 5-0.
Half of India’s Test team has been in England for almost a month now, playing in the T20 and ODI series against the hosts. India won the T20 series quite comfortably but was outplayed by England in the ODI series after Kuldeep Yadav had won the first match of the series on his own with a magical spell of spin bowling. The Indians, perhaps a bit cocky after their initial success, were let down by their top order batsmen and their pacers in the second and third ODIs. What should really be worrying Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri, though, as the Test matches approach, is the assurance with which Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and skipper Eoin Morgan faced the spin and guile of Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal.
Over the years, the ‘cruel’ English weather and the grassy, seaming tracks there have been the bane of touring teams. The unusual summer of ‘18 in England has prompted Ganguly to wonder – from the commentary box – if he was watching a match in Kolkata. Kohli had hoped that his wrist spinners would trouble the hosts, on the flattish wickets, but the Englishmen seem to have worked them out. Yadav’s figures, in the second and third ODIs, were 3-68 and 0-55, while Chahal’s were 1-43 and 0-41. Yadav has now been included in the Indian Test squad but one really wonders if he will be played ahead of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, after his latest ODI performances.
Another worrying factor for Team India should be the indifferent batting form of Cheteshwar Pujara, despite the parched wickets in county cricket. He has been playing for Yorkshire this season. One can only hope that Pujara, and Mohammad Shami — who is returning to the squad after a failed yo-yo test and a whole load of problems on the domestic front — get into their stride by the end of July.
Wriddhiman Saha, it is learnt, shall have to undergo a shoulder operation soon and won’t be available to the Indian team in England. If the team management had harboured hopes of him being in England for the Tests, after recovering from his thumb injury, this will surely be a body blow to them. BCCI’s medical staff therefore needs to be taken to task for its inefficient ways. Veteran Dinesh Karthik is now the only ‘keeping choice, as Rishabh Pant is still wet behind the ears and can’t be rushed in Tests.
Besides Shami, India’s pace attack in England this summer consists of Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Shardul Thakur and Hardik Pandya. The swing of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and the raw aggression of Jasprit Bumrah, both of who are injured, will surely be missed by the Indian team. Here again, there are questions to be answered by BCCI. Therefore, Kohli perhaps will go into the Test matches with Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav to share the new ball, Pandya — as a bowling all-rounder to back them up, and the spin attack in the hands of Ashwin and Jadeja.
Over the years, the ‘cruel’ English weather and the grassy, seaming tracks there have been the bane of touring teams.
India’s batting in Tests is more or less a settled one, unless Pujara on the basis of his form in England is replaced by KL Rahul. In my opinion, at least for the first Test commencing 1 August, the lineup will be (in batting order): 1. Murali Vijay 2. Shikhar Dhawan 3. Virat Kohli 4. Cheteshwar Pujara 5. Ajinkya Rahane 6. Dinesh Karthik 7. Hardik Pandya 8. R. Ashwin 9. Ravindra Jadeja 10. Umesh Yadav and 11. Ishant Sharma.
The England 11 could probably be: 1. Alistair Cook 2. Mark Stoneman 3. Joe Root 4. Dawid Malan 5. Jonny Bairstow 6. Jos Buttler 7. Ben Stokes 8. Dominic Bess or Moeen Ali 9. Chris Woakes 10. Stuart Broad, and 11. James Anderson.
Kohli’s boys could have a problem at hand if the wickets at Edgbaston, Lord’s, Trent Bridge, Rose Bowl (Southampton) and the Oval have a bit of juice in them. But if they are hard and dry, as was evident in the T20s and the ODIs, then the Indians can be expected to run the Englishmen close; they may even win a couple of Tests on the strength of their superior batting.
What India needs to win in England in 2018 are a few heroes. It was the heroics of BS Chandrasekhar, Wadekar, Dilip Sardesai and Eknath Solkar that brought India its first victory on English soil in 1971. The brilliant batting of ‘Lord of Lord’s’ - Dilip Vengsarkar, the all-round power of Kapil Dev and the bowling of Chetan Sharma and Roger Binny won for us two Tests in 1986, at Lord’s and at Leeds.
Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly chipped in with hundreds and Kumble picked wickets as India trounced England by an innings in 2002 at Leeds. Tendulkar, Ganguly, Karthik and others again batted well and Kumble bowled brilliantly to help India win again in 2007 at Trent Bridge. In 2014, at Lord’s, Rahane and Vijay made runs while Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma picked wickets to help India beat England by 95 runs.
Gazing into my crystal ball, I get the feeling that India, given the weather — and despite it missing the services of a few players — may pip England to the post to win the coveted Pataudi Trophy. We’ll know only on 11 September, when the fifth and final Test ends at the Oval, which Indian players really put up their hands to be counted among the all-time heroes.
Finally, there is the likelihood of Kohli joining Wadekar, Kapil Dev and Dravid in the ‘Hall of Fame’; an Indian skipper who won a Test series in Ol’ Blighty! I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler and coach, he is now a sought-after mental toughness trainer.
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Updated Date: Jul 21, 2018 13:37:09 IST