India vs England: Welcome to the Spinball vs Bazball battle
Virat Kohli’s late pullout robs the first two Tests of box office appeal
The last time England were routed by India in an away Test series in 2021, it was in the pre-Bazball era. There are enough doubts about whether such a gung ho style of cricket will work against India’s multi-pronged, tried and tested spin attack — and on challenging wickets — and the template will be set in the first of the five-Test series, which gets underway in Hyderabad tomorrow.
In a nutshell, the theme of the series is going to be Spinball vs Bazball. The Indian team’s experience at both the venues in South Africa — and the ICC’s subsequent ruling of them being ‘unsatisfactory’, has kind of vindicated the hosts’ reliance on spinning wickets, and Ben Stokes & Co. surely know what to expect. The only prayer on the part of cricket fans is that the matches should not finish inside two or three days — as that will not exactly be a good advertisement for Test cricket.
The much-hyped series suffered a body blow to its build-up when, less than 48 hours before the first Test, master batter Virat Kohli pulled out of the first two Tests owing to personal reasons. Knowing Kohli’s penchant to shine in the longest form of the game, the reasons must be serious enough and one only hopes he is in the right frame to be back for the third match.
Rajat Patidar, the in-form middle order batter from Madhya Pradesh, has been named Kohli’s replacement — but there are no prizes for guessing that it is more a reward for his current form and temperament to play the long innings in the two unofficial Test matches than anything else.
The Indian middle order selects itself automatically, with captain Rohit Sharma, Yashasvi Jaiswal at the top, Shubman Gill at no. 3 and the next three positions occupied by Shreyas Iyer, K.L. Rahul, and stumper K.S. Bharat.
Come tomorrow, and the Ash-Jaddu duet will be on show at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, where the pitch is expected to turn and grip as the match moves on.
England already have a taste of what the spin duo can do from their past visits here, and they will be particularly wary about Ashwin. The 37-year-old acquires a mean streak in home Test matches, and his record speaks for itself — since 2012, the canny off-spinner has grabbed 283 wickets from 46 Tests, averaging a shade over 19.
Jadeja might often be viewed as a supporting act to Ashwin, but the Saurashtra man is a potent threat with his nagging accuracy — having claimed 191 wickets from 39 Tests during this period. The team management is certain to include a third spinner in the form of either Axar Patel or Kuldeep Yadav, with the former having a better chance at the moment.
England will be aware that no amount of preparation, involving simulated conditions in the quiet surroundings of Abu Dhabi will be enough to tackle the heat and dust — and they need to tame the demons inside them.
Adding to their woes will be the whole furore over the return of young off-spinner Shoaib Bashir after the delay in processing his Indian visa. Stokes, never quite the type to pull his punches, has already said that he is "devastated" for the 20-year-old rookie.
Over then to Hyderabad…
Catch the match
India vs England
First Test, Hyderabad
Match starts at 9.30 am