As India begins its five-match Test series against England this week, here’s a look at the three key players on each side.
Kohli is in the form of his life after scoring two double centuries this year and appears increasingly comfortable with the responsibility of being Test skipper. While India are yet to lose a series under his captaincy, Kohli knows England pose a stiffer challenge than the recent assignments against New Zealand and the West Indies. He will also be desperate to improve on his dismal record against the tourists. In nine Tests, Kohli has scored just 322 runs and averaged 13 when India toured England two years ago. The Times of India said Kohli needs to “bury the ghost” of the 2014 tour having “reached the pinnacle of batting”.
Currently ranked the world’s top Test bowler, Ashwin has emerged as the most effective spinner in modern-day cricket and is a more than a decent batsman to boot. England’s struggles against spin were harshly exposed by the rookie Mehedi Hasan in last month’s drawn series against Bangladesh so Ashwin should be licking his lips. While he took only three wickets when India toured England, he’s a different proposition at home and took 27 in a recent series against New Zealand. India’s six other bowlers managed 30 wickets between them. When England last toured India in 2012, Ashwin also underlined his prowess with the bat by averaging over 60.
Rahane was one the few Indian batsmen to emerge with much credit from the 2014 tour of England when he scored a hundred at Lord’s and two half-centuries. After playing 29 Tests, he now averages over 51 and appears at the peak of his game. Rahane has been regarded at times as being vulnerable to bouncers and England’s pace attack will likely test his resolve by bowling short. But after being hit on the helmet by a bouncer in Indore last month, he went on to record a Test best score of 188 against New Zealand during an epic 356-run stand with Kohli.
If England’s skipper can repeat the form he displayed in India four years ago, then the tourists could well emulate that triumph. Cook scored 562 runs, including three centuries, as he led England to their first series win in India for 28 years. Despite having become England’s most capped player, Cook is still only 31 and well placed to overhaul Sachin Tendulkar as Test cricket’s highest run-scorer. After becoming a father again, Cook recently hinted he was finding time away from home a wrench. But he can enjoy an extended break afterwards as he no longer plays ODIs. And the heat of India shouldn’t be a problem for someone who never sweats.
Stokes was a picture of despair in his last appearance in India after being hit for four sixes in a row in England’s defeat in the World T20 final against the West Indies. It was a rare blip in an outstanding year for an all-rounder tipped by his coach Trevor Bayliss to become an all-time great. His match-winning innings in last month’s first Test in Bangladesh showed his improvement against spin and he was also England’s leading wicket-taker. But a player who once broke his wrist when punching a locker needs to keep his cool on a tour likely to contain plenty of frustrations. Burnout could also be a danger if he plays all five Tests.
Once seen as a batsman who turned his arm occasionally, Ali is now England’s premier spinner and his performance on India’s turning tracks could determine his team’s chances. He caught observers by surprise in his breakthrough summer of 2014 by taking 19 Indian wickets but struggled to repeat that success and only kept his place at times because of his batting. After taking 5-57 in the second Bangladesh Test, Ali said he was maturing as a bowler but still “nowhere near where I want to be as a spinner”. His batting has suffered from being shunted around the order, but two centuries in the last English summer underlined his class.
Feature image source: PTI/Reuters/AFP