England`s recent series loss to Sri Lanka depicted a team in search for several key answers in build up to the 5-match Test series against India. England aren`t the same without the likes of Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Swann. For a team in transition, who under new coach Peter Moores will face a young Indian line-up, the series looks to be a promising affair offering plenty of opportunities to both teams.
England were blanked 5-0 in Australia at the Ashes in the beginning of the year. The heart breaking series loss was followed by a 3-2 ODI series loss at home against Sri Lanka and now a 1-0 Test series loss has deepened the agony for Alastair Cook`s side. India on the other hand lost two back-to-back Test series on foreign soil against South Africa and New Zealand earlier this year. For both teams it will mean a lot to get a much-needed victory under their belt.
The last time India toured England in 2011, the visitors were beaten comprehensively with a 4-0 drubbing by the hosts. This time, the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led team will count the absentees of big stars in the England side and could also derive inspiration from Sri Lanka’s recent success on English soil. England skipper Alastair Cook has been going through a dismal run and that will be a major factor in both teams` fortunes.
There are a few factors that could prove pivotal for India in shaping up a positive performance.
Alastair Cook`s poor form: The English skipper managed to score just 78 runs in four innings against Sri Lanka in the recent 1-0 series loss. Cook has looked a shadow of himself in 2014 and that was visible against Australia in the Ashes down-under. Mitchell Johnson had inflicted some heavy blows on Cook and it is something he hasn`t come out of yet. Not only his form but also his captaincy has been a subject of utmost criticism from all corners. Cook has been let down by his senior players and the youngsters have come to the team’s rescue quite often. He has looked completely short of ideas on the field in the last few months. New ball bowler Bhuvaneshwar Kumar will try to test Cook early on, as the pitches in England assist swing. If India manage to keep Cook quiet, they will seize an early initiative up front.
Absence of Kevin Pietersen: With England`s leading Test batsman, Kevin Pietersen`s stint with the national side coming to a dismal end, England aren`t the same without him. KP had been instrumental in shaping England`s outlook and inspired them with numerous match-winning knocks. KP`s failure in Australia was highlighted by the ECB in his sacking, though the story seemed much deeper than that. But a player of high status is what England needed in the middle-order and nobody except KP could provide the impetus.
Absence of Jonathan Trott: England will also miss the services of Jonathan Trott. Trott, who had pulled out of the remainder of the Ashes tour in Australia citing a stress-related illness, hasn`t made a return for the English team. The 33-year-old boasted of a healthy batting average in both Tests and ODI`s and has been one of the classiest batsmen the game has ever seen. Trott`s absence plugs a hole in the English batting line-up. Therefore, youngsters such as Gary Ballance, Moeen Ali and Sam Robson have an added pressure of filling the gap.
Absence of Graeme Swann: One of the game`s finest spinners bid adieu to the game in middle of England`s Ashes tour in Australia. Swann was their No. 1 spinner for years. The off-spinner was one of the successful bowlers for England in their 3-0 Ashes win on home soil last year. Without Swann, England look thin in the spin department. England will go in for the Tests with all-rounder Moeen Ali as their sole spinner. Ali managed just three wickets against Sri Lanka with an average of 60.33. Lack of quality spinners could hurt Cook and his boys.
The Indians play spin very well and will look to see off Moeen Ali among England`s bowlers. With Ian Bell, Matt Prior and promising Joe Root, England do have the fire power in their batting but the absence of the formidable trio is something Cook will miss for sure.
For Cook, this is his chance to get his batting on track and once that happens, his captaincy too will fall in place. It will be a battle between English pacers and the Indian batsmen, who will be exposed to top quality pace attack.