BIRMINGHAM: India may be the world’s top-ranked Test side, but they still face accusations they are lions at home and lambs abroad.
But a series win in England, where Virat Kohli’s men begin a five-Test campaign at Edgbaston on Wednesday, would go some way to ridding India of that unwanted tag.
In the past five years, India have won just one of their six Test series outside of Asia, against a struggling West Indies.
Their overall Test record in England is uninspiring – six wins from 57 matches and three series victories in 1971, 1986, and 2007.
But if the current prolonged hot weather in England continues, the upcoming series may well be played on dry and dusty pitches, more akin to the surfaces that are found in India, rather than traditional green English seamers.
Also, while doubts persist about England’s ability to cope should either one of veteran new-ball duo Stuart Broad and James Anderson get injured, India do at least have some pace-bowling depth.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah may be unfit for the first Test, but the likes of Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, and Umesh Yadav have shown themselves to be capable operators outside of Asia.
Anderson is a master of conventional swing, but India may have the edge if conditions favour reverse-swing during what will be England’s 1,000th Test match.
“They seem to have got a good variety of bowlers and strength in depth in their pace bowling,” said England opener Alastair Cook.
“In the last ten years I’ve played them, they haven’t had the option of playing five or six different types of seamers,” added Cook, England’s all-time leading Test run-scorer, whose highest score of 294 was made against India at Edgbaston in 2011.
Meanwhile, India captain Kohli, one of the outstanding batsmen of his generation, will be desperate to prove he can score runs in England.
Umesh Yadav took two wickets as India won the second ODI in England and is part of a deep seam-bowling attack.
He managed a meagre 134 in five matches during his maiden Test series in England in 2014, which India lost 3-1 with one draw.
But Mohammad Azharuddin, the India batting great, believes everything is now in place for Kohli to have a successful series.
“I think he will perform wonderfully well,” Azharuddin told AFP in Delhi.
“He has led India in so many Test matches, so I don’t think he will have any pressure now as far as leadership is concerned.”
England captain Joe Root, who like Kohli is at his best when leading from the front, comes into the series having converted only three out of 23 fifties since his Test-best 254 against Pakistan in 2016 into hundreds – a poor return for a player of his ability.
Batting could hold the key to the series, and there are question marks against both top-orders.
England, following a 1-1 drawn series with Pakistan, are sticking with Keaton Jennings in the hope of at last finding a reliable opening partner for Cook, while India’s Shikhar Dhawan and Cheteshwar Pujara have both been struggling for runs.
“We are not worried at all, because both are really quality batsmen,” said India’s Ajinkya Rahane of his top-order colleagues.
“It just takes one good innings to get into your rhythm.”
India would appear to have the edge in spin bowling but off-break bowler Ravichandran Ashwin has rarely performed as well outside of Asia as he has in the sub-continent.
Left-armer Ravindra Jadeja is an experienced campaigner while left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav has forced his way in after impressing during the preceding one-day series.
White-ball form also led England to recall Adil Rashid even though the leg-spinner has not been playing red-ball cricket for Yorkshire this season and he could team up with off-spinner Moeen Ali.
“He’s a very good bowler,” said Rahane of Rashid.
“Wrist-spinners, we all know they are wicket-takers – and right now, in England weather-wise, it’s like playing in Mumbai or Chennai.”