A lot has happened in Indian cricket since skipper Virat Kohli last played in Test cricket. In his last Test in charge, India slumped to 36 all out against Australia in Adelaide at the end of last year to lose the first Test in a four-game series. Now, Kohli is back in charge – this time against England but with an Indian side which is riding the high of a sensational 2-1 series win over Australia.
Kohli will replace Ajinkya Rahane – who was one of the chief architects of the heroic triumph down under. Rahane had managed to revitalise the injury-ravaged Indian team. By the time India came to the final Test in Gabba, the side was missing the likes of Kohli, Hanuma Vihari, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah from their Playing XI due to various different injuries.
Some of these players like Kohli, Bumrah, Ashwin and Ishant will be available for first Test in Chennai from Friday (February 5). The Test is a special occasion for Kohli rival skipper – Joe Root – who is turning out in his 100th Test.
Root, who made his debut in the fourth Test against India in Nagpur during the 2012 series, is back to lead his team in a four-match rubber against the same opponents, as one of modern day greats.
“I think walking out for the first time in England shirt probably (has) been the proudest moment,” Root said on Thursday.
James Anderson, the world’s highest wicket-taking seam bowler, will again test Rohit Sharma’s patience and Shubman Gill’s technique using the pronounced seam of the red SG Test while preparing a tough set of questions in the corridor of uncertainty for the Indian captain.
Jofra Archer would like to use the bouncer sparingly and Ben Stokes wouldn’t mind if the old ball reverses a bit.
India will want to guard themselves against the complacency that can always creep in after a triumph like Australia. Rishabh Pant was one of the heroes of India’s triumph in Australia was rewarded with the wicketkeeping gloves as Kohli confirmed on Thursday.
“Yes, Rishabh (Pant) will start tomorrow. He had a massive impact in Australia and is in a good headspace and we want him to build on this along with all the aspects of his game which will happen with time,” said Kohli during the virtual press conference on Thursday.
“He’s come along very nicely after the IPL and then in Australia, he wasn’t the part of white-ball formats but he kept working worked hard in his fitness and in his game,” he further said.
The Indian batsmen are likely to enjoy an upper-hand against the England slow bowlers as save Moeen Ali, the other two — off-spinner Dom Bess and left-arm spinner Jack Leach — haven’t had the experience of bowling against a formidable Indian batting line-up.
However, it is the bowling combination that will be key for India as they aim to win at least two Test matches or more during the series in order to clinch a face-off against New Zealand in the WTC final at the Lord’s.
Jasprit Bumrah will also be making a different kind of debut – his first Test at home since his debut against South Africa in 2018. Ishant Sharma, in his last Test appearance nearly a year back claimed a five-wicket haul at the Basin Reserve but hasn’t played a red ball game ever since due to injury and COVID-19 induced break.
India are likely to play three spinners and Axar Patel, who has always been dubbed as ‘poor man’s Ravindra Jadeja’, is in contention to get his maiden Test cap. The choice could well be between Washington Sundar, who had a great debut in Brisbane in unfavourable conditions, and Patel.
(with PTI inputs)