On India’s 2018 Tour of England, after the two short limited-overs legs, things are all square. India won the T20I series 2-1, and England – the favourite to win their first ODI World Cup at home next year – won the ODI series 2-1. It was India’s first bilateral series loss under Virat Kohli, and their first after 8 consecutive victories. Despite winning the first ODI with a Kuldeep Yadav 6-for and a Rohit Sharma century, India made some silly selection decisions in the deciding ODI, and coupled with the troubling form of MS Dhoni, lost the series.
On Wednesday, the team for the first 3 Test matches of the 5-test series was announced. There were a few surprises, but the biggest blow for India came in the injury to Bhuvneshwar Kumar and the continuing injury to Jasprit Bumrah – both their strike bowlers in South Africa. Rohit Sharma was not selected in the 18-member squad, and Karun Nair was given another opportunity above him. Rishabh Pant was selected as the back-up keeper behind Dinesh Karthik (who was the top scorer in India’s 1-0 victory in England back in 2007).
Here are 5 of the key players across both sides that might be the key in deciding the outcome of what promises to be a hard-fought series:
JOE ROOT (England)
The captain of the English Test team has had a tough time since taking over the reigns from Alastair Cook. England have lost more than they have won – another Ashes included – and Root has been unable to convert his fifties into centuries. Then he was dropped from England’s final T20 game against India; Eoin Morgan was convinced that this drop might galvanize the Test captain into form. He was right. Root scored two consecutive centuries in England’s victories in the second and third matches of the ODI series. He is not known to go big, which is why these centuries meant a great deal to a team looking for their best batsman to start the Test leg with great confidence. This could be a page-turning week for Root, and India will now be wary of him in his own backyard. Imagine the damage he can do in 10 innings.
JOS BUTTLER (England)
The Gilchrist to this new-look English lineup, Buttler will look to carry on his scintillating T20 and ODI form into Test cricket. Buttler’s performance is crucial in the middle order – he remains the only attacking option, and as we know, Indian bowlers tend to taper off once they have dismissed the top order. His counter-attacking aggression will lend England the ammunition to finish off the tired Indian bowlers and turn around the game midway through the five days.
CHETESHWAR PUJARA (India)
Every batsman will be under the scanner in these notoriously swinging conditions, but none more than the almost-wall of the Indian battling lineup, who has established himself as somewhat of a sub-continental bully at no. 3. Unlike Shikhar Dhawan, who performs abroad in ICC tournaments, this Test specialist will have no escape across 5 matches – a most crucial series for him in context of his own strange career. Pujara had all the temperament and technique when he broke into the Test team back in 2010, but he has failed overseas in conditions that should have brought the best out of him.
UMESH YADAV (India)
With Mohammed Shami not totally back to full confidence after trouble on the personal front, Umesh Yadav has the firepower to be India’s most lethal bowler in these conditions. He has bursts of brilliance, and his spells are almost unplayable when on song – a reminder of Ishant Sharma at his peak a decade ago. But with Ishant’s age, Shami’s lack of match practice, Bumrah’s injuries and Ashwin’s struggles in England, it is Yadav who will have to take responsibility for a long and grueling English summer. He is quick, energetic and at the point of his stop-start career when he can go from good to great.
DINESH KARTHIK (India)
The only survivor from India’s winning 2007 team under Rahul Dravid, Karthik’s career has taken a positive turn after his heroics at the Asia Cup a few months ago. He was a superb captain for the Kolkata Knight Riders, and smartly established himself as a new-age finisher, in contrast to Dhoni’s old-school waning abilities. He should have had more of a role to play in the T20 and ODI legs, but the team is obsessed with Dhoni and a turnaround that might never come. Yet, with Wriddhiman Saha’s injury, Karthik is now India’s first-choice keeper in conditions that require him to be solid – a counter-defensive no. 6 – below a top order that will be under high pressure. He played as opener in 2007, an inspired but temporary move, and here he will play just above Hardik Pandya – another key player who will be out to prove that his 94 against South Africa wasn’t a fluke.
Other key players: Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Hardik Pandya, Ajinkya Rahane