MUMBAI: The win against Australia in their backyard is something which everyone talks about, but for the Virat Kohli-led Team India that is past, as they converge into a new beginning when they take on England in this own turf, here from Friday.
The hosts do have many reasons to cheer about, but the main being the return of their skipper, Kohli back in the fold against Joe Root's England during a four-Test series starting Friday with both sides bidding to qualify for the World Test Championship final.
FPJ takes us back about and fronts about the and two powerhouses, as international cricket returns to India after a year-long COVID-19 break and it couldn't have been bigger than a series against a world-class side which is led by a modern-day great in Joe Root.
It was 2012. Yes, that’s when India lost a Test series at home. And from Friday they will start another series at home when they take on England in the first of the four Tests at Chennai. It was England who last beat them at home when Alastair Cook led them to a surprise 2-1 win over MS Dhoni’s men. It will even be a greater surprise if Joe Root, for whom this will be 100th Test, can achieve that against Virat Kohli’s men.
Root was in the dressing room as a debutant when England achieved that big win after a gap of 28 years at Nagpur and he was also part of the dressing room when they lost their last series in India by a margin of 4-0, the last loss coming at the same venue by a margin of an innings and 75. Root will know why the two results were so dramatically opposite. In 2012 their spinners Graeme Swannn and Monty Panesar were better than the Indian spinners (Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha) while their batsman led by Cook and Kevin Pietersen provided a masterclass on how to bat on sub-continent tracks. What had also helped the visitors in 2012 was that they had spent almost a month in India and played a number of practice matches before the first ball was bowled in the Test series. Their oppositions might not have been that good, but the time spent under the sun was of help once the series started in Ahmedabad where Cook hit a ton in a lost cause.
But when they came here in 2016 things were different. There was no Swann, Panesar, Pietersen, Ian Bell or Jonathan Trott. Barring the first Test at Rajkot where for a brief moment they looked like in charge when India lost quick wickets in pursuit of 310, they were totally beaten to dust by the Indian batting might of Kohli, M Vijay Cheteshwar Pujara, KL Rahul and Karun Nair. Even off-spinner Jayant Yadav got a hundred! Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja picked 28 and 26 wickets respectively to catch England in the spin web.
The thing that makes England’s task even tougher this time around is that in the last four years this Indian team has taken the fear factor out of the equation, be it playing at home or away. In Australia recently they were down and out on several occasions. Be it 36 all-out at Adelaide, losing players to injuries or playing with injuries they have now set the bench high about the ability to never take a step back and followed the win-in-any condition philosophy as their moto.
The only good thing for England has been that although they haven’t played any practice games ahead of the Test, they did win a series against Sri Lanka just before coming here. Root will be hoping that Moeen Ali and Jack Leach can do a Swann and Panesar, while Jofra Archer can combine with Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson to stop the Indian batsman. He will also be wishing for runs from himself and Ben Stokes and hoping the likes of Rory Burns and Dom Sibley can play their roles.
As is the case with all sides riding on a win, who plays, or not, doesn’t seem to be the matter. At home Test Mayank Agarwal has two double tons and a ton, but he will be sitting out of this Test ass Kohli wants to give a long rope to the Rohit Sharma-Shubman Gill opening pair. There is no Jadeja due to injury but any of Kuldeep Yadav or Axar Patel can take his place. Can they find a place for Hardik Pandya in the playing XI? Who cares.