Times have certainly changed since 2007 when India last won a Test series on English soil and Tiger Pataudi presented the newly minted trophy that carries his family’s name to Rahul Dravid, the winning captain, at the Oval.
The Indian Premier League did not exist, the England and Wales Cricket Board was yet to throw itself into a bed of ill-gotten money with Allen Stanford (let alone devise a jazzy alternative to Twenty20 that now dominates the peak summer weeks) and the only bubbles in cricket started with the pop of a cork.
Back then the two sides duked it out over three Tests in a 1-0 victory for the tourists with neither changing their playing XI. Midway through 2021 England have selected 21 players in eight fixtures, rest and rotation having been the response to the pandemic and Joe Root’s team the one to suffer.
In theory the tinkering has stopped for the five-Test series that starts at Trent Bridge on Wednesday. The build-up has been slightly overshadowed by the Olympics and the dawn of the Hundred, but the series is a blockbuster; the widely cited £100m value refers to home broadcast rights, with the TV money from India, sponsorship and bumper crowds pushing this figure higher still.
Yet despite aiming to be at full strength for the first encounter in the new World Test Championship cycle and, in the words of Chris Silverwood, hoping to galvanise a team for the Ashes, England find themselves damaged by absentees. Jofra Archer, Chris Woakes and Olly Stone are missing through injury while Ben Stokes – central to the balance of the team – has taken indefinite leave to prioritise his mental health.
Add in concerns about the batting thrown up during the 1-0 defeat against New Zealand in June, a lack of red-ball cricket for players since due to a nonsensical domestic schedule, plus growing anxiety among the squad about whether families can travel to Australia this winter, and England seem decidedly vulnerable.
It will be fascinating to see whether India can capitalise on all this or if Root can rediscover the form from the start of the year when he scored three monstrous centuries – two of them doubles – before the pitches in India started turning square and his side crumbled to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Virat Kohli’s men.
Trent Bridge first up offers something for both teams. By 2015, when Stuart Broad tore through Australia’s batting line-up like crepe paper, the ground had become something of an English stronghold with six wins from its previous seven games. Two defeats have followed but, along with it being Broad’s home ground, Jimmy Anderson also pitches up at a venue where he has claimed 64 wickets at 19 apiece in 10 Tests.
Quick Guide First Test: probable teams England (possible): Dom Sibley, Rory Burns, Zak Crawley, Joe Root (c), Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Ollie Robinson, Jack Leach, Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson. India (possible): Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah. Show Hide
For India it is the scene of their series-defining victory 14 years ago and, more relevant to this group of players, their solitary win during a 4-1 defeat in 2018. That series was one of losing key sessions rather than outright home dominance and it was also when Kohli put questions about his record in England to bed with two fine centuries and 10 innings without getting once out to his previous nemesis, Anderson.
“I’ll just bat,” came the curt reply from Kohli when asked about this rematch on Tuesday. India’s captain has gone nearly two years without a century in any format and seen his side blow the WTC final against New Zealand in June on the final morning, but that burning fire inside him remains undimmed.
He gave little away about his XI but the expectation is that KL Rahul, fresh from a century against the County Select XI during India’s solitary warm-up match, will open alongside Rohit Sharma after Shubman Gill (shin) and Mayank Argawal (concussion) were ruled out. Thereafter the team should take a similar shape to the one that lost in Southampton, with the one question being whether Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin continue the two-spinner policy or if one makes way for a fourth seamer. If so, the all-round qualities of Shardul Thakur may fit the bill at No 8.
Going by their slip practice a day out, England appear ready to keep faith with a top three of Rory Burns, Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley despite Haseeb Hameed’s century against India in Durham. The pitch at Trent Bridge, dry with a touch of green, should lend itself to Jack Leach playing his first Test of the year but to do so will mean Jos Buttler at No 6 – his first red-ball cricket since February – and Sam Curran, a talented all-rounder but one yet to score a century at senior level, coming in at seven.
If so, a solid No 8 will be required and Ollie Robinson may well play his second Test since his impressive debut at Lord’s in June was torched by the emergence of his past shortcomings on social media. The 27-year-old found himself the centre of a frenzied public debate that week but his subsequent punishment – a ban for the three matches he missed during the fallout, plus five more that are suspended – and his return to the squad have slightly flown under the radar.
This is probably explained by the more recent issues facing the England team and the Hundred bursting into life. But now a five-Test series to decide the Pataudi Trophy begins, promising a depth of substance that short-form cricket, for all its booming growth since India last won on these shores, is yet to rival.