India’s youngsters had an impressive tour of Sri Lanka, and the action and focus shifts back to the Test team in England. The first of five Test starts in Nottingham on August 4. Not only will that be the series opener, but also kickstart the ICC World Test Championship’s 2021-23 cycle. India missed out on the trophy in the first edition losing to New Zealand in the final, and will be eager to go one step further this time. One game at a time, though.
What are the interesting things to look out for, from an Indian perspective, through the five Tests? Let’s have a look
Rohit Sharma: Full tour as opener for the first time
This will be the first time Rohit will go through a full overseas series as opener, form and fitness permitting, since he took up the role in 2019. When Rohit started with a bang in the home series against South Africa back then, the next challenge seemed to be whether he could replicate the success in tougher conditions overseas.
However, an injury ruled him out of India’s tour of New Zealand last year. The focus then shifted to the Australia tour later that year, but there too, he missed the first two games due to injury.
Now, Rohit starts the tour as the first choice opener playing a crucial role given the rotation at the other end. Shubman Gill is injured and Mayank Agarwal will be making a comeback to the position – never the easiest of things. KL Rahul too could return at that position. India have also called up Prithvi Shaw, although it remains to be seen when he will be available.
Rohit is in decent form too; he made 34 and 30 in the WTC final in Southampton and looked to have sorted his technical plans. How he goes in the five-Test series will be crucial to India’s chances.
Cheteshwar Pujara to feel the heat?
Here’s what Virat Kohli had to say about India’s batting approach, after the loss in the WTC final.
“The mindset has to be to score runs and find ways to score runs. You can’t be too worried about getting out because you are bringing the bowler into the game completely and not moving the game forward. We know that, as a batting unit, if we consistently put up 300 on the board then it is a different kind of pressure on the opposition with the kind of bowlers that we have. The idea from here on will be to try to score runs and not worry about getting out in testing conditions. That’s the only way you can score and put the opposition under pressure, otherwise you’re just literally standing there hoping that you don’t get out and eventually you will because you’re not being optimistic enough.
“I think you have to take more risks and calculated risks and be confident about taking those risks against a quality bowling attack like New Zealand.”
Since then, India have called up two batsmen as injury replacements – Prithvi Shaw and Suryakumar Yadav. Both who are batsmen who play in tune with Kohli’s statements above.
We could be reading too much into it, but it could mean that Cheteshwar Pujara could be feeling some pressure. It was perhaps evident in the first-class warm up match against County Select XI, where he fell stumped.
Pujara’s numbers in England aren’t great. 523 runs from 20 innings at an average of 27.5. Can he improve on that?
KL Rahul’s possible return, in middle order
Rahul’s last Test innings in England was a fine 149 at The Oval, in 2018. Since then, though, his Test career graph has gone down. With Agarwal and Gill emerging as solid options, Rahul has had to wait for his turn.
The wait could end this tour, even if it’s in the middle order. Rahul played as a non-opener in the warm up match and made a century, indicating he’s ready to make a comeback to the longest format. Ajinkya Rahane had a hamstring issue that kept him out of that game, and given this is a long series, Rahul could feature at some point.
Mohammed Siraj’s rise
Siraj is only five Tests old, but there are plenty of voices demanding him to play all Tests in England. Plenty wanted him in the World Test Championship final too, but India went with the experienced unit. That could change in the five-Test series given Siraj’s graph has only gone upward and upward.
With pace, seam movement and ability to swing, Siraj is the full package who should be perfectly suited for English conditions.