1st Test, Rajkot: India vs England 2016 – Preview
England have come into the series after a first-ever shock defeat in a Test match at the hands of Bangladesh in Dhaka to draw the two-match rubber 1-1.
Rajkot: Their morale high after back-to-back triumphs over West Indies and New Zealand, World No.1 India would be odds-on favourites when they take on England in what is expected to be a gruelling five-Test series starting here tomorrow.
The series will be the first five-match affair on Indian soil in three decades and the opening clash will also mark the debut of Rajkot as a Test venue.
It promises to be an engrossing contest between the world No.1 ranked India and the team that last beat them at home four years ago.
In 2012, England came back from a game down to turn the tables on India and post a 2-1 win in a four-game rubber.
Superior spin bowling by Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, both of whom are no longer part of the squad, was a major factor in that English triumph.
Also some excellent batting by current skipper Alastair Cook and the controversial Kevin Pietersen, who is no longer a part of England's scheme of things, were the highlights for England.
The current Indian team led by Virat Kohli, who was a member of the team that was vanquished four years ago and later in England (3-1) two years ago in a best-of-five contest, would not have forgotten the hard lessons.
This time around, however, England have come into the series after a first-ever shock defeat in a Test match at the hands of Bangladesh in Dhaka to draw the two-match rubber 1-1.
The tourists have also not played any warm-up game after landing in India a week ago. Add to that, their highest Test wicket-taker James Anderson is not available for at least the opening skirmish as he is yet to return to complete fitness from a shoulder injury.
Both Cook and all-rounder Stuart Broad, who is to play his 100th Test, have talked about England being the clear "underdogs" going into the rubber, especially against an Indian side being led in aggressive style by Kohli.
Kohli would be extremely keen to improve his not-so-impressive record with the bat against the visitors.
The Indians are understandably wary of the England team. Coach Anil Kumble wants his team to execute plans exactly like they did when they swamped New Zealand 3-0 to begin the home season on a rousing note.
Yesterday, vice captain Ajinkya Rahane talked about the dangers of becoming complacent even against an England side, which has a few new faces.
This would also be the first Test series in India where the Decision Review System (DRS), which the BCCI has consistently opposed, will be used.
The hosts, with little experience of it in Tests barring the one series eight years ago in Sri Lanka, have been busy planning their strategy on how to approach the system.
India, who have an enviable record of not being beaten in 14 home Tests since their loss to England in Kolkata in 2012, have a good batting line-up even though it has been hit by injuries to KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma.
Kohli is once again expected to lead the way in batting along with Rahane and the likes of Murali Vijay, the recalled Gautam Gambhir and Cheteshwar Pujara, the team's leading scorer against New Zealand, who will be playing at his home town here.
Because of the injury sustained by Rohit in the one-day series against New Zealand, either Karnataka batsman Karun Nair or Baroda all-rounder Hardik Pandya appear set to make a Test debut.
More than anything, the focus will be on the track prepared for the game at the Saurashtra Cricket Association (SCA) Stadium.
SCA's secretary Niranjan Shah had told reporters that the pitch will aid spin from day four.
India have the clear edge in spin department with the in-form Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja expected to give a lot of trouble to the English batting line-up, especially on turners.
Although there's merit in India going in with all three spinners -- Ravinchandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra --, with the leg-spinner expected to be kept in the reserves -- at least for the opening tie.
Ishant Sharma will make a return after missing the New Zealand series due to illness to add meat to the pace department.
It would be interesting to see whether he's preferred over Umesh Yadav to partner Mohammed Shami.
On paper, India have a good opportunity to avenge their last three series defeats to England.
England will sorely miss their pace spearhead Anderson
who is expected to join the squad here having recovered more or less from his shoulder injury but will not be in the playing eleven.
The visitors, however, have a top class fast bowling attack led by Stuart Broad and will have the tall Steven Finn, Chris Woakes and all-rounder Ben Stokes to fall back on depending on the combination they choose to field in the playing eleven.
Moeen Ali, who started as a batsman and can bowl off spin, has now become the side's frontline spinner and will have left-armer Zafar Ansari and leggie Adil Rashid as his partners in crime although off-spinner Gareth Batty is another option.
However, more than anything else, it would be a battle of attrition between the two sides and India would be expected to hold their own better in home conditions.
The teams (from):
India: Virat Kohli (Captain), Murali Vijay, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (Vice Captain), Ravichandran Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha (Wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Karun Nair, Jayant Yadav.
England: Alastair Cook (Captain), Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Gareth Batty, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler, Ben Duckett, Steven Finn, Haseeb Hameed, Moeen Ali, Zafar Ansari, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes.
Match starts: 09:30 am IST.