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India vs England 1st Test Preview: Do Root & Co have it in them to combat India's spin threat

England's team
England's team
©reuters
 

While skipper Virat Kohli will be back after paternity leave, this will be the first time that India's pace kingpin Jasprit Bumrah plays a test match in India.

LIVE - India vs England 1st Test

The enormity of England's task

As it is, touring India is a formidable challenge for any team. Now that the side is coming off a historic 2-1 victory against Australia in their own den effectively with a second string playing XI, it adds to their aura further.

Back in their home conditions, it is very tough for any team to get the better of the Men in Blue. England though would take confidence from the fact that they have form on their side with test series victories against West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka since the Covid-19 break.

India to go in with 5 bowlers

India's top 5 pick themselves with wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant expected to bat at number 6 after his heroics in Australia. Hence, it is almost certain that India will go into the first test match of the 4-match series against England at Chennai with five specialist batsmen, a wicketkeeper and five bowlers.

This leaves Team India with the basic question of whether they want to play two spinners and three pace bowlers or two pacers and three spinners.

 Kuldeep and Sundar to get the nod

Three out of these five bowlers are automatic picks. Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma will be India's leading pace bowlers while Ravichandran Ashwin will be the team's premier spinner. If the team management opts to pick an extra pace bowler, there is little doubt that Mohammed Siraj, after his brilliant returns against Australia, will be the preferred choice.

In terms of spinners, India have three options other than Ravichandran Ashwin out of whom they have to pick either one or two. Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav and Washington Sundar can all prove to be a handful in helpful conditions, especially at Chennai where the pitch will begin to break down from the end of day two.

Washington Sundar being an off spinner, of a similar ilk as that of Ravichandran Ashwin, will play only if India choose to go with three spinners because playing two off spinners makes little cricketing sense. In case, India play two spinners, left arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav is the most likely to play given the X Factor that he brings.

If India opt the three spinner policy, the choice will be between left arm spinner Axar Patel and offie Washington Sundar. The batting advantage that both have negates itself as both are capable of averaging around 30 at the highest level.

The fact remains that Washington Sundar is coming off a brilliant test match against Australia where he helped India register a historic series victory and showed great composure. For all his batting ability, IPL form and left arm variation, Axar will have to wait his turn.

Ali, Pope, Anderson, Archer set to play

With the return of Rory Burns, England will have Dom Sibley and Burns as their opening pair, with Zak Crawley likely to bat at number 3. Joe Root will stick to his preferred number 4 position, with Ben Stokes at number 5.

Ollie Pope, if completely fit, is expected to bat at number 6. If not, Dan Lawrence, after a good showing in Sri Lanka, will retain his spot. Jos Buttler, who will fly out of India after the first test match, will bat at number 7 and keep wickets.

Moeen Ali, who has completely recovered from his Covid-19 bout, will be England's top spinner alongside Jack Leach. England's highest wicket taker in Sri Lanka, Dom Bess will have to make way.

England will desperately want both James Anderson and Stuart Broad to play but it does not seem likely with Jofra Archer providing an X Factor in the bowling unit. This means that Anderson, due to his better numbers in India and impressive showing in Sri Lanka, is expected to be preferred over Stuart Broad despite the latter's brilliant form.

Here's the probable playing XIs:

India
- Shubman Gill, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wk), Axar Patel/Kuldeep Yadav, Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj/Washington Sundar, Ishant Sharma

England - Rory Burns, Dominic Sibley, Zak Crawley, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (wk), Moeen Ali, Jofra Archer, James Anderson, Jack Leach

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