The ‘Virat’ test for the men in white

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With the roots of colonial-era still intact, a group of 18 men, under the leadership of the Maharaja of Porbandar arrived in England. Under the name of ‘All India’, these aristocrats represented a huge chunk of oppressed individuals on the holy pilgrim of Lord’s in a sport that was not so familiar to them. In a game that lasted 4 days, ‘All India’ was humbled by 158 runs in a game that was nothing more than a display of higher class on the political grounds.

Eighty-six years has been a long enough time to change the perception and ideology regarding this contest. The game is no longer played by the aristocrats, it has become more of a national identity for 130 billion people in the world’s most popular democracy. The baton of the game has been very generously passed on by the English to a nation that wasn’t meant to survive on its own. Quite ironically, it is an English sport that has assisted us in achieving this feat.

If we take away all the dark stories of history that don’t really matter today in the gentlemen’s game and focus on what’s in front of us, the Indian Cricket team’s tours to their better half’s land don’t justify the monumental status that they adhere to.

The best cricketer of this generation, Virat Kohli & Co. will face their toughest challenge in the white kit as they take on the hosts, England, in the first of five test match series at the Edgbaston Cricket Ground, Birmingham. With the test matches losing solid ground, this series comes at the proper time for all the cricket fans to enjoy an English summer that has been more likely an Indian one. So before the umpire signals the game to get go, let’s talk about a few important aspects that will decide this star-studded and classic affair.

Who will open the batting?

India had their last appearance in a white kit in their own backyard against Afghanistan. A game that went about so fast, we almost thought it got cancelled. Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay were the openers at the Chinnaswamy Stadium and both scored a century to flaunt the occasion. The ground reality being, Dhawan’s poor record in overseas in swinging conditions, which were clearly evident in his last visit to England. Even in the ODI series, when the ball didn’t move that much. KL Rahul, on the other hand, has been performing well, consistently, especially across the limited overs format. Even his record in overseas conditions has been much better than Dhawan. One thing is certain, Murali Vijay will be the constant, apart from the fact who gets to feature between the other two. The Tamil Nadu batsman can play a decisive role at key moments as he is the only player from both sides to have played more than 1000 balls during the previous series between these two in 2014. His precision and patience were on show as he poignantly survived the catastrophic English conditions.

England, on the other hand, are short of options. The no. 5 nation in the ICC Test rankings lack the experience when it comes to the opening department as only Cook is an experienced campaigner. However, he has had a tough time in 2018 and has scored only 189 in 9 innings with an average of 21. Keaton Jennings has been impressive but still needs to get through those long spells, just like Cook used to alongside Andrew Strauss.

The middle order woes

Perfect. An adjective that every player looks to achieve through his display. The Indian captain, Virat Kohli is no different to this quest. Kohli had a disastrous England tour in 2014. He became the bunny for Jimmy Anderson who dismissed Kohli four times in the series, as the 29-year old was restricted to 134 runs at an average of 13.40 in 10 innings. To become the greatest, Virat needs to hit the road hard in England if he is to silence his critics. He can even eye for the number one test batsman spot in the world as he is just 26 points behind Steven Smith who is currently undergoing his punishment of a one-year ban post the ball tempering saga.

The current form of Pujara and Rahane is also a key concern for the no. 1 test team. Pujara’s record in England has been far from impressive and his time in county cricket also didn’t serve him and his fans well, where he was averaging just over 14.00.

Their opposition looks more of the same troubled as apart from Joe Root, who has been a better test batsman than Kohli in England, there are no other options to be dependent on. Dawid Malan, Bairstow and John Stokes are big names that haven’t lived up to their name in red ball cricket over the last one year, giving the reason behind England’s demise in their own backyard against South Africa and Pakistan.

The swinging fate

A big positive on this tour for the Indian team on paper and with their red-hot form is the bowling department. This is one of the finest bowling attacks that the Indian team have landed in England with. Pace, precision, movement, there are all sorts of tricks that the Indian seamers have up their sleeves.

It will, however, be interesting to see if Kohli prefers Jadeja or Kuldeep Yadav in the playing eleven. Yadav, who has performed charismatically on this tour in the limited overs cricket, looks to be the more likely option with two all-rounders already looking set for playing 11.

For Hardik Pandya and Ravichandran Ashwin, this seems to be the big test. The latter especially hasn’t been able to perform overseas at all. For someone at the top who has been at the pinnacle of all-rounders to have such a bad record overseas is something that needs to be sorted.

Even the hosts face questions that have no answers. England is heavily reliant on the greatest ever test seamer pair, Anderson and Broad. Both of them have had a great time against this particular opposition at home.

Anderson’s remarkable record against India includes 86 wickets in 22 test matches with Broad getting 54 scalps in 15 games. Statistics though, barely show half the story. The way these two have single-handedly dismantled the best batting line-ups including the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Kohli, still gives nightmares to every Indian.

But if we talk about the turning game, there’s no debate whatsoever there. England has no full-time option to assist Adil Rashid in getting through the hot summer pitches. Rashid himself returns to Test cricket after a time span of one and a half year and has immense pressure to perform.

The English summer

It has been talked much in the English and Indian media, but its importance is such that we will have to bring it up again. This current summer fiesta of cricket in England was marked by scorching conditions and slow wickets that assisted the spinners and the batsman a lot. Now the English crew would be working out in calling out the god of thunder to pour in hard otherwise we might just get a feel of an Indian summer in England. Weather is expected to change by mid-August and if the Indians are able to dominate the game till then, we are in for a treat tonight.

After a hectic July, it’s now time to get some warm coffee and tea ready along with warm pakodas, as the season of cricket is here. The stakes will be immense, as they always are when India plays this sport. Simply put, the Virat test for the men in white is on.

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