England vs. India, 1st Test – Preview

I’m struggling to remember a time when on the eve of such a high-profile Test Series that it feels like it has completely snuck up on us. With the BBC and Sky focusing their undivided attention on their new shiny product as mandated by the ECB, it feels like the most important format of the game has been shunted aside in order to focus on some salty snacks. It doesn’t help either that cricket social media is currently involved in a bloody civil war, the likes I haven’t seen since 2014, in what at best is likely to result in a pyrrhic victory for one side. I have tried not to comment too much on The Hundred due to some of the vitriol being thrown around, but both Dmitri and TLG here and George Dobell, Sam Morshead and David Hopps elsewhere have written some terrific and balanced articles around it. Let’s just say the £50million punt to attract a new audience seems to have been less than successful so far.

Anyway, back to the upcoming Test Series, which has only really been covered by the media due to the sad but absolutely correct decision by Ben Stokes to withdraw from due to mental health challenges. Thankfully it is only a minority of the nose breathing public that have been critical of this decision arguing that these cricketers are being paid a lot to perform, thankfully the majority have rightly expressed their concern for Ben’s welfare. Most of us don’t understand the pressures that top class sports individuals face especially with an unrelenting schedule and added pressure of the ‘bubble environment’, after all these people are only human like you and I, therefore it is no surprise that eventually this was going happen. Ben won’t be the first, nor will he be the last cricketer who will need to take time out to preserve their mental health. I’m sure everyone who reads this just wants Ben to take the time out he needs to get better, after all, cricket will still be here when he is ready to return. As someone who freely admits to have gone through my own mental health challenges, all I can say is go well Ben.

As for actually previewing this series, the lack of any of red ball action that either side has played recently due to the ECB shoehorning an unnecessary format into the summer, makes it almost impossible to precisely predict what will happen. The majority of England’s red ball specialists (except Haseem Hameed) haven’t played a red ball game since a rain affected round of fixtures on 11th-14th July, whilst the likes of Sam Curran and Jos Buttler haven’t played a red ball game since January and February respectively. With injuries and absentees for Archer, Woakes and the aforementioned Stokes, it makes it difficult to predict what sort of side England will pick. One would imagine that Anderson and Broad will play at Trent Bridge and it wouldn’t surprise me if Curran is picked at 7 as an all-rounder. As for the batting it will interesting to see if Hameed, who is the form batsman currently is picked ahead of Sibley or Crawley. One can argue that a top 3 of Sibley, Burns and Hameed might be too stodgy, but with this England batting line up, beggars can’t be choosers. The one thing I hope England avoid is going in with an all-seam attack. It didn’t work against New Zealand in the summer and I’m pretty sure it won’t work now. Jack Leach has been in great form for Somerset and played well against India in the sub-continent, so I genuinely feel it would be a grave mistake for the selectors to overlook him again.

As for India, they haven’t exactly had a smooth build up to the series either. Firstly, they had Covid in the camp and then they have been afflicted by the same injury bug that England have had with Agarwal the latest to be declared unavailable due to a concussion sustained in training. This leaves India seriously green at the top of the order with either Rahul or Pujara likely to have to step up to open which is not their natural role. This combined with a complete lack of red ball practice for Rahane and Kohli, who both missed the Durham game, also means that India are entering this series with a batting line up that is seriously undercooked. The one thing India does have is fast bowling attack that is spoilt with riches and a world class spinner in R. Ashwin, who has proved he can perform in all conditions. It does make me think that whichever side bowls the best will win the first couple of games.

The one thing that I am most looking forward to about tomorrow is to put all the strife and vitriol behind me for a little while and to concentrate on the format that I love best. Hopefully the weather will behave, and we can concentrate on exciting series against one of the best Test team’s in world cricket.

As ever thoughts on the game and anything else, gratefully received below: