Since 2007, India haven’t scored 400 plus in an innings in England. Out of 10 innings on the 2018 tour, only thrice did India cross 300.
This is the sixth time since 2002 that India are playing Tests in England, five months after hosting them for a full tour. The captains are unchanged for some years now, the personnel have remained pretty much the same, we know how the pitches are likely to be laid out and that the English summer has a mind of its own. You could say the novelty of an England tour has almost worn off.
Yet, India haven’t won a series in England since 2007. There were one-off wins, some outstanding sessions that went India’s way, but not a series. Comparisons are inevitable now that India have defeated Australia away on consecutive tours. “India’s best travelling team in the last 15-20 years,” coach Ravi Shastri had controversially proclaimed despite India’s 4-1 series defeat in England in 2018. Time to walk the talk has arrived.
On paper, there can’t be a better opportunity for India. No Jofra Archer, Chris Woakes or Moeen Ali, and with Ben Stokes also pulling out, England—despite Sam Curran and their bench strength—can be stretched. India are better off despite injuries to Shubman Gill and Mayank Agarwal. And unlike previous tours, India have acclimatised and even enjoyed a lengthy family break, having reached UK on June 2 for the World Test Championship final.
How does this team compare to the one that lost in 2018? “We are definitely much better prepared,” said skipper Virat Kohli in a pre-series media interaction. “You can have all the experience in the world but it boils down to execution. We now have the players to accomplish that. Some will fail but some, I believe, will bail us out. We have grown in that aspect.” 2018 was on many counts an exacting year for Indian cricket. Back-to-back away series in South Africa, England and Australia are ominous for subcontinent teams, not India. Had it not been for one session of reckless batting at Centurion, the series in South Africa could have panned out differently from the 1-2 loss. England too was a story of missed chances till the curve took off in Australia later that year. Another series win in 2021, against an Australia with Steve Smith and David Warner, and India finally emerged as a force. Add the spunk they showed in the World Test Championship final against New Zealand and you know India have arrived.
But have India played good cricket on all fronts? The bowling has been top notch for some time. Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma together have more than 200 wickets away from home in the last five years. If R Ashwin has been in the best phase of his career, Ravindra Jadeja only strengthens his all-rounder’s credentials. With Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, Umesh Yadav and Axar Patel waiting, you know this India team will keep getting wickets irrespective of conditions or combinations.
In batting though it gets skewed. Kohli hasn’t hit a hundred since November, 2019, Cheteshwar Pujara since January, 2019. Ajinkya Rahane is a soldier but not a sure selection even in his ninth year as a Test cricketer. There is still surprisingly a lack of cohesion in the batting unit, which reflects in partnerships away from home. Get this: The highest Indian partnership for any wicket since 2015 (the year Kohli became captain) is 365 between Kohli and Rahane against New Zealand in Indore, 2016. Outside the subcontinent and the Caribbean it is 204, between Rishabh Pant and KL Rahul at The Oval in 2018. Only four out of 38 partnerships of 150 or more since 2015 have come in the 13 Tests in Australia and England.
The England-specific numbers hold even less promise. Since 2007, India haven’t scored 400 plus in an innings in England. Out of 10 innings on the 2018 tour, only thrice did India cross 300. The stocks of the stalwarts have taken a hit as well. Kohli has a career average of 52 but only 35 in England, that too after a terrific 2018 tour when he plundered 593 runs. Pujara’s 46 average slips to 27.52 and Rahane goes from 41 to 29.52. Between Pujara and Rahane, they have scored just two centuries in England. On their day, James Anderson and Stuart Broad are still expected to run through sides. But there will be lapses in concentration, periods when their premier bowlers tire out. India must seize them as a batting unit.