Right up until last Friday, England cricketers would have been hoping the simmering temperatures experienced across the British Isles over the past couple months receded and the traditional English summer returned. Luckily, mother nature answered their call, well at least for a cricketing sake. The mercury dropped by nearly 10 degrees, the wind started to blow and the dark clouds brought the rains.
The change in the weather must have put the smiles back on the English cricketers, as for nearly the past month it had seemed that India will be playing an away series on pitches that resembled their own backyards. Ever since India arrived on the English shores, it seems like all the external factors were heading in India's favour, but in the past 10 days, the tide has turned.
The loss of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, the ODI series win along with the shift in weather has rejuvenated the England side. They will now start the five-Test series clear favorites, at least in the bookie's eyes. They will also feel that the momentum India had gained after the T20I series has been lost, and it is now that the hosts that can start dictating terms on the visitors.
The test now for England is whether they can lay siege on the opportunity or not. For a close to a year now, they have set the benchmark in the ODI format, but their red-ball cricket has equally degraded with each series. Two months ago, they were supposed to brush aside an inexperienced Pakistan team, but ended up succumbing to them at Lords before eventually settling for a 1-1 draw.
England now face a stiffer Test. They are up against No 1 Test nation that is desperate to succeed abroad. Importantly, the visitors are aware of the fact that England are no longer a force they were at home in the five-day format and are still heavily reliant on the ageing warriors such as Alastair Cook, James Anderson, and Stuart Broad.
Above all, England have a point to prove on their home patch after being massacred 4-0 by India on the slow, low pitches of India. For a while now, England's record on the road has been below par, but at the same time, they have not been beaten at home in the past eight series'.
But there are some alarming signs and England are still an unsettled line-up in red-ball cricket. This series presents them with an opportunity to build a solid combination moving forward and for the Ashes in 12 months time. There are still a few spots up for grabs, one of them being the opening batsmen. Keaton Jennings will start the series, but there are a few upcoming batsmen waiting in the wings.
Then there is Joe Root. Ideally, the England captain would like to bat at No 4, but such has been the circumstances or the lack of emergence of strong top-order batsmen that Root has to take up the extra responsibility. If Root can score runs at will at No 3, he could well be established in that spot for the next few years. It will be a test of his character and mindset.
While the likes of David Malan, Jonny Bairstow, and Ben Stokes are long-term options, there is still a big question mark over a spinner. If the weather remains hot then Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali will need to do a bulk of the work and also take wickets. The fact that Rashid has been picked in the Test arena, despite giving up on the longer format in first-class cricket is a sign England's cupboard in terms of spinners is running on empty. It has forced the selectors to gamble and the hot summer has meant England cannot always be guaranteed a green seamer.
The other glowing concern for England in the bowling department is third seam bowling option. Chris Woakes will miss the first couple of Tests and Mark Wood is preserved for the ODI arena. It once again begs the question: If there is a docile pitch on offer – how can the bowlers pick up wickets. Add to that England's team management has already hinted that Anderson and Broad are unlikely to feature together in all five Tests given the hectic schedule. So can they find the backup bowlers to continuously break down the Indian batting on a benign pitch?
England are still unsure about their game plan. If they roll out a green seamer, their batting is far too dicey and the current Indian battery is more than capable of running through them. If the pitches are flat, do they have the armory to take 20 wickets? There are more questions than answers. It is a series in which England need their so-called second-tier cricketers to show they can withstand the pressures of Test cricket. If they do, England have a good chance of regaining the Pataudi Trophy.
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