Kohli’s India face England with Lord’s Test final at stake
New dad Virat Kohli returns to captain a buoyant India against England as they aim to build on their crushing win over Australia by sealing a place in the World Test Championship final.
Kohli, who welcomed a baby daughter last month, missed most of the Australia series on paternity leave as Ajinkya Rahane led an injury-ravaged side from 0-1 down to a sensational 2-1 away win.
Next up is the much-anticipated four-game series against Joe Root’s England, who are also on a winning streak after beating Sri Lanka 2-0 on their first Test tour since the pandemic.
However, India start as strong favourites on their spin-friendly home pitches, where England haven’t won a Test since 2012.
The hosts will also expect to clinch their place in the inaugural World Test Championship final in June at Lord’s, where New Zealand await.
India top the table followed by New Zealand, Australia and England. The Black Caps reached the final when Australia called off their tour of South Africa over coronavirus concerns.
Fast bowler Mohammed Siraj and wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant were among the new stars unearthed by India as they clinched the series by handing Australia their first defeat at Brisbane’s Gabba ground since 1988.
Paceman Mohammed Shami and left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja will miss the first two Tests due to injuries, but England are keenly aware of the strength and variety of India’s attack.
“The one thing about the Indian bowling attack is that it’s not just about spin,” England’s assistant coach Graham Thorpe said.
“Their seam attack is also strong. We can’t be sidetracked completely and focus just on the spin side of things.”
Jasprit Bumrah will lead the pace attack that also includes Siraj, Ishant Sharma and Shardul Thakur.
Spinners Ravichandran Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav, Washington Sundar and Axar Patel will also be key on the Indian pitches.
England have come equipped with their spin options in Jack Leach, Dom Bess and Moeen Ali, who has recovered from the Covid infection that kept him out of the Sri Lanka series.
They also have three reserve spinners in Mason Crane, Matthew Parkinson and Amar Virdi.
Root, who hit match-winning scores of 228 and 186 in the first and second Sri Lanka Tests, will complete a century of Tests in the first game.
The visitors have been boosted by the return of Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Rory Burns as they rotate players to reduce their time in biosecure “bubbles”.
Wicketkeeper Jos Buttler will go home after the first Test, while Jonny Bairstow has been rested for the opening two matches. “Root has time to play his strokes. He also plays spin well off the back foot,” Indian spinner Kuldeep Yadav told ESPNcricinfo.
“Buttler dominates the bowlers really well. That is his strength. Stokes too is similar and keeps the bowler under pressure.”
The first Test in Chennai is behind closed doors, but 50 percent capacity — 16,500 — will be allowed at the second Test in the same venue.
India ‘mentally tough’ for England series: Rahane: India are “mentally tough” despite the coronavirus pandemic as they prepare to take on England in a Test series starting Friday, Rahane said.
Rahane, one of the heroes of India’s upset series triumph in Australia last month, also insisted that he was happy to have captain Kohli back in the side.
Most teams have complained about the mental strain of playing bio bubble Tests when they are stuck in hotels and stadiums for months on end since the pandemic erupted a year ago.
But Rahane said India are “not mentally tired at all”.
“We are really tough mentally. We are as a unit, we are as a family,” Rahane told a virtual press conference from the team headquarters in Chennai where the first two of the Tests will be played.
“We are enjoying each other’s company here, we are enjoying time in the team room. Our families are here, which is really important, it is really good.”
Crawley doubtful for first Test: England batsman Zak Crawley could miss Friday’s first Test against India in Chennai after suffering a wrist injury.
The England and Wales cricket Board said in a statement that the 23-year-old, set to bat at number three in the series, hurt himself after a fall at the ground on Tuesday, with the Kent rising star taking no part in Wednesday’s training session.
Crawley has since been sent for scans to determine the extent of the problem.
“Zak Crawley did not train today (Wednesday) at England’s practice session in Chennai,” said an ECB statement.