International cricket returns to India after a year-long COVID-19 break and it couldn’t have been bigger than a series against a world-class side which is led by a modern day great in Joe Root.
Root would be playing his 100th Test match and the team also features the most respected new ball attack in contemporary cricket besides having the game’s best all-format all-rounder.
And in the middle of all this will be the awe-inspiring presence of Kohli, fresh from a paternity break, leading a side which would be expected to present another enthralling show after a miracle come-from behind series win in Australia.
But in England, they face a team that in the last 15 years, is the only one to have won a Test series (2012) in the sub-continent.
In Root they have a player, who knows a thing or two about how to tackle spinners on sub-continental turners as he showed during the just-concluded Sri Lanka series.
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.
“Australia series is past now. We have to respect the England side and take one match at a time,” said India’s vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, back in his familiar role but perhaps with a lot more responsibility after emerging as a leader during the Australia series.
India will be wanting to guard themselves against the complacency that can always creep in after a triumph like Australia.
So, after batting on firm, even bouncy Australian tracks, it’s time for them to adjust to the red soil traditional Chennai pitch which will have bounce on the first day and start helping the spinners from the third day.
One might find Cheteshwar Pujara shedding his combative “take body blows” style to a slightly more attacking one on a track where the ball won’t be consistently flying above the waist level.
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.
Against the old ball, one might see India unleashing Rishabh Pant, who on his day can murder any bowling 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.
But Mohammed Siraj’s gutsy performance Down Under can’t be forgotten in a hurry and it will be one of the toughest calls for Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri in recent times when they decide between Siraj and Ishant.
The logic in favour of Ishant is that he was out due to injury and now gets his rightful place back as the man who is just three short of 100 Test matches.
But then a form player always has an advantage and Siraj, over the years in first-class cricket, has toiled hard on unresponsive wickets.
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.
Ravichandran Ashwin picks himself while Kuldeep Yadav, being a wrist spinner, is an attacking option that skipper Kohli would fancy.
How the spin troika stops Root from playing his sweep shots could well decide how the Test match would pan out during the next five days.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Ajinkya Rahane (vice-captain), Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rishab Pant (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasiprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Siraj, Washington Sundar, Kuldeep Yadav, Axar Patel, Hardik Pandya, Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, Wriddhiman Saha, Shardul Thakur
England: Joe Root (captain), Dominic Sibley, Rory Burns, Ollie Pope, Dan Lawrence, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wk), Ben Foakes (wk), Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Jofra Archer, James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Dominic Bess, Jack Leach, Olly Stone