Historically, India have struggled at Birmingham. The two teams have clashed six times at this venue, with England winning five and one draw in 1986. The added incentive for the hosts of course is to put in a strong performance on a historic occasion as they become the first team to feature in 1000 Tests.
Looking at the last five encounters between the two sides, India find themselves having the upper hand, having won four match (all victories coming on Indian soil). However, in England, MS Dhoni-led Indian team were trounced 0-4 and 1-3 on their last two tours in 2011 and 2014 respectively.
For India to better that dismal record in this series, they will need to ensure they put their best foot forward. And for that to happen, there’s a few problem areas to overcome.
Skipper Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri have often said that Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay are their first-choice openers in the longest format. The last time these two took to the crease in a Test, both Dhawan and Vijay struck respective majestic tons to once again display their batting credentials at the top.
However, KL Rahul presents a strong case for selection on the back of his eye-catching form in recent months. Rahul has expressed desire to open the batting in media interactions India but Kohli has so far stuck with his mantra of 'don't tinker with things that aren’t damaged'. But with Dhawan being dismissed for a pair in both the innings of the warm-up game against Essex, the management could be tempted to try Rahul (58 & 36*) at the top — like they did in the second innings of this three-day game.
Curious Case of Cheteshwar Pujara
There is no doubt that Cheteshwar Pujara is a key member of this Indian outfit in whites but his sketchy form outside of the subcontinent has time and time again hampered his progress. Out of the 4,531 runs that he has scored in Tests, only 21.09 % of Pujara's runs have come outside Asia. Moreover, he averages a stunning 65.0 in Asia, which drops to a paltry 27.3 outside the continent. Pujara has 14 Test tons to his name so far, out of which only one has come outside Asia, that too in 2013 (since then he has played 30 Innings outside Asia).
Pujara's stats in England reveal a none too impressive picture. In the 5 matches that he played on the last tour, Pujara managed to score just 222 runs at an average of under 22.2. To add to his misery, Pujara didn't do well either for Yorkshire in County cricket nor during the warm-up game against Essex (1 & 23). Although, Pujara should make the cut for the first Test, if the runs don’t go up against his name, his position will once again become a subject for debate.
Late Bloomer Karthik or Future Star Pant?
Under the stewardship of Shastri, the Indian team has introduced a number of young players into the squad. However, Dinesh Karthik bucked that trend by convincing the selectors to give him a recall ahead of injured wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha.
There is no denying the fact that Karthik has earned his spot based on his recent domestic performances with Tamil Nadu, as well as his scintillating show in white-ball International cricket. However, at 33, Karthik will know that 20-year old Pant is waiting in the wings for his chance to shine.
What tips the balance in favour of Karthik is that he has prior experience of playing in England as he was part of the series-winning Indian team of 2007. In 6 innings in England, Karthik has scored 263 runs, including three fifties, playing a crucial role in the outcome.
Pace-heavy Bowling Line-up or Tried & Tested Spin Attack
Rain has been coming down heavily in Birmingham in the past few days and that may force India to go in with a pace-heavy attack. With both Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah unavailable, India have to think long and hard about the combination they choose to field.
Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav remain the front-runners to share the shiny Duke ball and if India opts for another seamer then Mohammed Shami comes into the picture. It is unlikely that Shardul Thakur will make his Test debut just yet.
However, in the past, away spinners have done well at this venue and that could tip the scale in favour of the celebrated spin duo Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, who are ranked third and fifth in the latest ICC rankings. Looking at the past record of these two stalwarts, the decision-makers would think twice before including Kuldeep Yadav in the line-up, but because of his performances in the limited-over formats in England, the left-arm wrist-spinner remains in the mix.
England: Joe Root (c), Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Dawid Malan, Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Jamie Porter, Sam Curran, James Anderson, Stuart Broad
India: Virat Kohli (c), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Rishabh Pant, Karun Nair, Hardik Pandya, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah.
First Published: August 1, 2018, 8:15 AM IST