NASSER HUSSAIN: India are fragile just like England and Virat Kohli’s men could crack if Joe Root & Co make big first-innings runs during Test series
- Virat Kohli will do anything to win their first series in England since 2007
- As they showed in Australia, India will not be bullied, either on or off the pitch
- England’s strong seam attack can expose India’s fragilities in English conditions
India are a tough, gritty, skilful side, led by a captain in Virat Kohli who will do anything to win their first series in England since 2007.
As Australia discovered over the winter, they will not be bullied, either on or off the pitch.
I just feel, though, they will be vulnerable in these conditions if England get first-innings runs. That’s a big if: England’s top order misfired against New Zealand recently, and apart from Joe Root they’ve got very few runs in the bank after their winter in Sri Lanka and India.
India captain Virat Kohli who will do anything to win their first series in England since 2007
But India have fragilities too, and it will be up to England’s strong seam attack to expose them.
For a start, they’re going to have an inexperienced opener to partner Rohit Sharma, who averages only 27 in Tests outside India (as opposed to nearly 80 at home).
Then there’s Cheteshwar Pujara, who’s had a tough time of late and can’t afford just to block. The tactic worked in Australia, where the Kookaburra ball goes soft and you can pick up runs when batting gets easier, but this summer’s batch of Dukes balls have swung for longer than ever, so simply hanging around won’t work against the likes of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad.
India must ensure that Kohli isn’t regularly coming to the middle at 20 for two. I know he played Anderson well on their last tour here in 2018, but it will be asking a lot of him to repeat that if he isn’t protected by his top three.
Cheteshwar Pujara had a tough time and can’t afford just to block like he did in Australia
They also have to decide where to bat their wicketkeeper, Rishabh Pant. He’s a box-office cricketer, as he showed against England earlier in the year, but I’d want him at No 7 rather than No 6, just to strengthen the batting in English conditions.
And that means India may have to decide which of their spin-bowling all-rounders, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, to leave out.
In home Tests, those two can both play, with Pant at No 6. Not in England — unless the pitches are flat and the sun is out. Otherwise, they may have to be split up.
India have all their bases covered when it comes to their excellent fast-bowling unit, but they may need to go for bowlers who can make it swing as well as seam. We saw how New Zealand outplayed them in that facet of the game during the World Test Championship final, so I’d be tempted to have a look at Mohammed Siraj.
Rishabh Pant (right) is box office and India need to decided where to play him
England have a chance, even without Ben Stokes. Yes, they’ll miss him hugely — what team wouldn’t? — but I just hope that their determination to grind out big first-innings scores, which worked last summer and in South Africa before that, doesn’t affect the way Root plays.
Against New Zealand at Edgbaston, he made 11 off 61 balls in the second innings, which seemed like a waste of his talents. He’s a touch player, a tempo player. And, with Stokes missing, he’s England’s one world-class batsman.
If he can play his natural game, and help his side to decent first-innings totals, I believe he can finish the series as the winning captain.