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Masterstroke with Mr Cricket UAE: Can India pass the ultimate test in England’s backyard?

India have selected a squad of 20 players plus four on standby keeping in mind the length of the tour and the COVID-19 pandemic for their England tour where they first play New Zealand in the World Test Championship followed by a five-Test series against the hosts England.

With the IPL called off indefinitely, the focus of India team now shifts to the first World Test Championship final where New Zealand will be waiting for them in England as they play a two-match series with the hosts before the Kiwis take on India for the WTC title, starting on June 18 in Southampton.

India have been a roll after an emphatic away Test series win against Australia — despite being blown away for just 36 runs in the loss at Adelaide — bouncing back to win the series 2-1 and then beating England 3-1 at home, also after losing the first Test but coming back to win the last three and qualifying for the WTC final in the process.

This time India have to pass not one but two crucial challenges in English conditions, where their record in the last three series played there has been very poor with 4-0 white wash in 2011, 3-1 in 2014 and 4-1 in 2018 against England. The last time India won a series against England was in 2007 under Rahul Dravid‘s captaincy. After that the going has been quite tough for the India batsmen who have found the swing and seam conditions difficult to counter.

Mind you, India’s last series against the Kiwis was also a 2-0 loss in seam and swinging conditions where Kyle Jamieson wreaked havoc along with Trent Boult and Tim Southee. India will also have to counter the aggressive Neil Wagner along with the guile of swing specialist Colin De Grandhomme.

India’s seam attack boasts Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Siraj, who can be handful too in swinging conditions but India’s biggest strength would be their spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, who can be handy on the Southampton track which generally supports the spinners. The batting also looks good on paper with the likes of Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuman Vihari and also Rishabh Pant.

But will their free-flowing batsmen be able to counter the swing and seam conditions of England? It is going to be a challenge as that has been their weakness for a long time now. Most importantly India’s openers will be a concern. Rohit Sharma had a terrific last series against England at home where he was the highest scorer from India but it was with the SG Ball in Indian conditions whereas the Dukes Ball swings much more and Rohit’s record has not been so good to speak about. Moreover, opening partner Gill struggled against England after a promising series against Australia. So did Pujara.

India will be once again hoping that captain Kohli shows the same form has he had shown in the 2018, where he scored 593 runs negating the swing of Jimmy Anderson, who had the measure of him in the 2014 series. India will also bank on vice-captain Rahane, who has a good record in England. But their biggest bet would be with Pant, who has come out of age in the last two series against Australia and England and has been the impact player who has taken the game away from the opposition.

If the top-order batsmen can get through the early part where there is more swing and seam, India can then capitalise with their strong middle order. But history is against India. Can they turn it around this time to first win the World Test Champions and then beat England at their home turf? Your guess is as good as mine.