Chennai: The Test series against England that begins here at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Friday holds a lot of significance for Indian cricket. As the first international fixture in the country since the Covid-19 pandemic turned the world upside down, the series is expected to pave the way for the smooth conduct of the IPL and then the World T20.
On field, the four-Test showdown will also decide the finalist who will take on New Zealand in the World Test championship to be held at Lord’s in June. While England have to clinch the series, by winning, at least, three games, the hosts have a rather simple scenario for qualification — winning two Tests.
For India skipper Virat Kohli, a clash against quality opponents presents him an opportunity to silence critics who have been calling for a change of captaincy. Ajinkya Rahane’s calm leadership under challenging circumstances in Australia drew a lot of appreciation. With pressure mounting, new dad Kohli has a point to prove with the bat as well as the way he leads a full-strength side.
Kohli, however, said the World Test championship qualification scenario doesn’t add any pressure on them. “In New Zealand (2020), I think we made a mistake by discussing the championship. But our approach has changed from the Australia tour. There is no point thinking about something (final) that is still months away,” said Kohli.
Like India who are still basking in the adulation for their exploits in Australia, England, too, are riding the crest of a wave. Having won their last five away Test matches — two in Sri Lanka and three in South Africa — the visitors have reason to believe that they can repeat their 2012 performance here. That was India’s last series defeat at home. Since 2012, India have won an incredible 28 of the 34 Tests they have played at home, suffering just one defeat, against Australia.
England skipper Joe Root said he would relish taking on the “best team in the world”.
“We have gained a huge amount of confidence. We are realistic about where we are as a team. We are slowly improving all the time. This is going to be a huge challenge for us and we relish that challenge. We just have to concentrate on making forward steps as a team. You wanna play against the best teams in the world and you wanna try and do well in their conditions. That’s an opportunity for this group. We are coming off a good series and are looking forward to the next four games,” said Root.
The Chepauk curator had promised to roll out a wicket with an “English look”, but going by Root’s observation, it’s “not the prettiest” for the visitors. If it behaves like a typical Chennai track, a run feast is in store with spinners coming into play at a later stage. When the two teams squared up here last time in 2016, India had posted their highest ever Test total of 759/7d.
Kohli hinted that the playing XI would be picked with a focus on bowlers who can also bat. In Ravindra Jadeja’s absence, Axar Patel is set to make his Test debut. It remains to be seen if India will go with two off-spinners (R. Ashwin and Washington Sundar) or pick wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav as another option.
For England, Jofra Archer is likely to share the new ball with either James Anderson or Stuart Broad. “I had the displeasure of facing Jofra today and he bowled at the speed of light. He looked to be in great rhythm. If he can harness that into this series, he’s going to have great success,” said Root.