India are set to commence their 2021–2023 World Test Championship campaign against England. Virat Kohli and Co. will be involved in a five-match Test series, starting on Wednesday (August 4), and their very first assignment will arguably be their toughest in the new cycle. India have won only two of their last 15 Tests in England and have lost 12. They now have a formidable bowling attack but their batting is still very fragile, especially in bowling-friendly conditions. And, you could say the same about England too.
Here, we look at both India and England's batting line-up and compare them against each other.
(Options - Dominic Sibley, Rory Burns, Haseeb Hameed, Zak Crawley, Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Prithvi Shaw, Abhimanyu Easwaran)
If you are a top-order batsman, England is one of the last places you would want to tour. The new Dukes ball moves like anything and could obliterate the entire top-order in a matter of a few overs. On paper, India have a better top-three than England, but things could go wrong pretty quickly against the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Rohit was dismissed in his 30s in both innings against New Zealand in the WTC final. Agarwal, Shaw, and Easwaran are yet to play a Test in England, while Pujara has an average of just 27.53 in 20 innings in this country.
Rohit, Agarwal, and Pujara are most likely going to be India's top-three in the first Test and all three of them struggle against incoming deliveries. Since 2018, Rohit (33 v 48.3), Agarwal (21.8 v 112) and Pujara (25.3 v 42.8) have better average against deliveries moving out compared to the ones coming in. Both Rohit and Pujara have an average of less than 30 against Anderson but could also have a tough time against the likes of Sam Curran, Broad, Mark Wood and Ollie Robinson. Rohit didn't get a big score in the WTC final but looked quite compact, while Pujara will be under pressure after having a mediocre series against England in India earlier this year.
Meanwhile, England openers Sibley and Burns are much like Pujara. The two like to bat out as many deliveries as possible and that's why the England openers have the second-lowest strike rate (40.7) after Zimbabwe (33.6) in Tests since 2020. However, if they don't get those big scores, it could also trigger a big collapse, something that has been happening with England for quite some time now. In his last 10 innings, Sibley has been dismissed for a single-digit score on seven occasions. Then there's Crawley who has 704 runs in 24 innings but almost 30 percent of those runs came in that one knock - 267 v Pakistan in August 2020. Since that knock, he has managed just 123 runs in 12 innings and has got out for a single-digit score nine times.
And, it won't come as a huge surprise if England straightaway start with in-form Haseeb Hameed. The right-handed opener, who made his Test debut against India in 2016, was called as a cover during the New Zealand series but has retained his spot because of his outstanding form in the County Championship. He scored 642 runs in nine games at an average of 45.85 for Nottinghamshire and even got a century in the warm-up game against India. If things don't go well, England also have the option of promoting Jonny Bairstow to No. 3, something that they did in Sri Lanka and India. It won't be easy, but the top-order could decide the fate of the series.
(Options - Joe Root, Daniel Lawrence, Jonny Bairstow, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul, Wriddhiman Saha, Hanuma Vihari, Suryakumar Yadav)
Barring Pant, there is not a single Indian batsman in the top-six who averages more than 30 since 2020. The wicketkeeper-batsman has emerged as India's biggest match-winner and has slammed 560 runs at an average of 56 in his last 12 Test innings, studded with five fifties and a century. Pant is a game-changer and we all saw what he did against Australia and England, but India will want their captain and vice-captain to step up if they want to compete with Root's men. Rahane has been very inconsistent, while Kohli hasn't scored an international century since November 2019.
Two of India's most senior batsmen have done well in England in the past. Rahane scored two fifties and a century when India toured England in 2014, while Kohli amassed 593 runs at 59.3 in 2018. The two will once again have to be careful against Anderson and Broad. Kohli looked clueless against Anderson in 2014 but hasn't got out to him since then, while Rahane has got out to Broad five times and averages just 17.4 against him. Since 2020, Kohli averages just 21.67 against fast bowlers. Four of his nine dismissals have come on deliveries moving away from him, something that Anderson exploited during the 2014 tour.
The Indian captain might not have scored a single century in the last 20 months but has three world-class fifties to his name. He got that 74 in the pink-ball Test against Australia in Adelaide and then managed knocks of 72 and 62 against England on a rank turner in Chennai. Kohli now has a point to prove and that's when he is at his very best. Meanwhile, Vihari hasn't been amongst runs of late and India could bring in Rahul if Rahane keeps failing. The Indian team management wants to try him in the middle-order and the stylish right-hander from Karnataka will be high on confidence after scoring a hundred in the warm-up game.
England might have a fragile top-order but their strength lies in their middle and lower-order. Root is going to be the key man for the hosts but the England captain has pretty mediocre numbers at home. Since 2020, the right-hander has amassed 1034 runs in 17 innings away from home but has only managed 321 in 12 innings in England. On deliveries pitched on a good length, Root averages just 22.6 since 2018. The 30-year-old has always been comfortable against spinners (53.71) but averages just over 32 against seamers in England in this time period.
Even if Root doesn't fire, England have Buttler, Bairstow, and Pope in their middle-order. The latter is doubtful for the first Test because of a left thigh muscle injury but the former two have played at least 50 Tests and have enough experience. Then there is Lawrence who is just starting to make a name for himself. Both India and England have formidable middle-order and it will all boil down to who rises to the occasion.
(Sam Curran, Ravindra Jadeja)
England will be without their ace all-rounder Ben Stokes who has decided to take an indefinite break from cricket to prioritize his mental well-being and look after his injured left index finger. His absence will surely disrupt England's balance and the onus will now be on Curran to step up and contribute a lot more with the bat. The left-hander scored 272 runs in seven innings at an average of 38.86 when India last toured England in 2018 but hasn't scored a single fifty in his last 14 Tests. He will be up against Jadeja who has been brilliant for India in the last couple of years.
India don't have a fast-bowling all-rounder in their squad and that's why Jadeja's role becomes important despite being a spinner. The 32-year-old has played six Tests in England, scoring 307 runs at 27.91. On top of that, he has taken 17 wickets in those games at an average of 42.5. Considering India don't have Hardik Pandya, it will be difficult for them to leave out Jadeja. Shardul Thakur is the only pacer who can bat a bit but then R Ashwin will have to bat at No. 7. The other option is to go with just four frontline bowlers and play an extra batsman, but Jadeja actually has better numbers with the bat than all the options available.
* Also, let's not forget about the importance of the lower-order contribution in England. Time and again India have failed to dismiss the opposition lower-order but the difference becomes broader when their own tailenders fail to score. Since 2018, India’s lower-order average 11.8 when on tour and concede at 18.6 to the opposition. Meanwhile, England’s lower-order have an average of 17.3 at home. And, this is where England have a huge advantage over India.