Hosts India are over the moon after registering a historic series win Down Under against Australia, while visitors England have landed in India after whitewashing Sri Lanka in the island nation.
What makes a team sport more intense are the individual battles between the players of the opposing teams which make fans sit up and applaud. Needless to say they also usually have a big impact on the outcome of the contest. Such battles leave a lasting memory of the intriguing contest on the ground for the fans.
As India host England for a four-match Test series, starting February 5, TimesofIndia.com takes a look at five such individual player battles which have the potential to affect the final outcome of the series:
Virat Kohli vs James Anderson
This is truly a clash of the titans — India’s batting mainstay and a modern-day great versus the most successful pacer in Test cricket history. The result of this battle could have a major impact on the outcome of the series.
India captain Virat Kohli has an enviable record against the visitors at home, scoring 843 runs at an average of 70.25 in nine Tests which includes three hundreds. Even though swing master James Anderson hasn’t been as effective as he is on English soil on the spin-friendly Indian pitches, he has still managed to capture 26 wickets in 10 Tests in India. And at the age of 38, this will in all probability be his final visit here and he will be aiming to make it a memorable one.
The rivalry between the two go back almost a decade, when a young Kohli met the English pacer for the first time in Test cricket, when the visitors registered a memorable 2-1 series win in 2012. It was the last time India lost a Test series at home.
Anderson, who had a forgettable outing last time England toured India in 2016, is coming into the upcoming series after taking a confidence-boosting six-for against Sri Lanka, in what was a dress rehearsal of sorts for this India tour.
Kohli, on the other hand, will be keen to end the small dip in form in 2020, in which he played just three Tests and managed to score just one fifty in six innings. It will be a new start for new parent Kohli as he gets back on the cricket field after a break.
Rohit Sharma vs Jofra Archer
This one is a clash of X-factors. One, a batsman who can blow away any attack and the other a tearaway pacer who has impressed all in a very short period of time.
Rohit Sharma, regarded as one of the best openers ever in limited-overs cricket, has made the Test opening slot his own, especially at home. Rohit has a mind boggling record at home, scoring 1325 runs at an average of 88.33 in 14 Tests, including six hundreds. Even though the right-hander has faced England only once in Test cricket, he will be confident of a good show, playing them on his favourite grounds.
Jofra Archer has burst onto the international stage in the last couple of years, establishing himself as a formidable pacer who can trouble the best batsmen in the business. He is quick, clocking 145kmph at will, and accurate and can rattle any batting lineup on his day. But he is a newbie on Indian soil with the red cherry in his hands and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the change from foreign conditions that suit his style of bowling.
The opening hour and the opening session of play will be the battleground for these two charismatic individuals. Rohit’s ability to provide a good start with the bat will set the tempo for the hosts. But the India opener has to win his battle against Archer, who will definitely bowl with the new ball.
The outcome of this battle between these two immensely talented cricketers could determine who is pushed onto the backfoot early in an innings.
Cheteshwar Pujara vs Stuart Broad
The battle of the two workhorses – India’s current Test wall versus England’s second highest wicket taker in Tests of all time.
Both have spent their careers somewhat in the shadow of their more charismatic teammates, but have remained extremely vital cogs in their team’s wheels.
Cheteshwar Pujara, the rock of the Indian batting line-up, returned from Down Under proving how Test cricket remained the real test as he endured blow after blow from Aussie pacers to keep one end safe for his team.
And he just loves playing against England. In fact the first time he faced them in 2012 in Ahmedabad he hit a double hundred – an unbeaten 206 which remains his career best score.
It will take a lot to stop Pujara at home, and visitors will need all the experience from the likes of Stuart Broad and Anderson to subdue him. Broad has enjoyed bowling to Indian batsmen and has taken 70 wickets in 20 Tests overall, but his record in the non-pace friendly pitches in India is below par – 10 wickets in 6 matches.
But if someone can stop Pujara it could be the fourth most successful pacer in Test cricket history who is known for his hunger to make breakthroughs at any time during a day’s play of Test cricket.
Joe Root vs Jasprit Bumrah
This one can prove to be a vital one in the context of the outcome of the series — India’s number one bowler versus England’s captain and batting mainstay.
Root, who made his England debut in India in 2012, is the leader of the English batting line-up and is coming into this series high on confidence after scoring a double hundred and another big hundred in consecutive matches against Sri Lanka in the recently concluded two-Test series.
Root also has an excellent record against the hosts, both overall and in India. In the two previous visits to India combined, Root has scored 584 runs at an average 53.09 which included a hundred and five fifties.
It will be interesting to see how Bumrah performs in home conditions with the red ball after playing all his 17 Tests so far away from home. The pacer though has a good record against English opponents, taking 14 wickets in just three Tests at an average of 25.92.
With opener Zak Crawley ruled out of the first two Tests with an injured wrist, England will heavily rely on their skipper to score the bulk of their runs and India’s success in the series will depend a lot on Bumrah’s effectiveness in stopping Root from scoring big.
Ben Stokes vs Ravichandran Ashwin
It’s a battle of two out and out match winners — England’s charismatic allrounder versus India’s very own spin wizard.
Ben Stokes has established himself as one of the best big stage players, winning matches for England from tough situations. Even though England suffered a 4-0 defeat on their last tour to India in 2016, Stokes had a decent outing with the bat, scoring 345 runs in 5 Tests which included a hundred and a fifty.
The visitors will need his finishing prowess and rescue acts again as they look to repeat their 2012 success, but for that he has to win the battle against the one who is expected to bowl the maximum number of balls to the English – Ravichandran Ashwin.
Ashwin at home is a colossal figure, intimidating the opponents with his guile and aggression. The off-spinner has a jaw-dropping record in home conditions – 254 wickets in 43 Tests at 22.80. The hosts’ success will depend largely on how effective Ashwin is against the English batting order.
Stokes’ big strength is scoring runs quickly and taking the game away from the opposition. Ashwin could play a key role in stopping the World’s number 1 Test all rounder from doing that in this series.