“England are one of the teams who come well-prepared for a Test series,” said Ravichandran Ashwin during an interview with New Indian Express sometime last week. He is absolutely right.
‘England doesn’t play spin well’ is one of the few misconceptions that go around till date. The statement would have held true a long time back but it definitely isn’t the case right now.
Moreover, India does not resort to rank-turners at home anymore, definitely not as much as they would have done a couple of decades back.
They understand that the bowling attack at their disposal could outbowl any opposition in the world, irrespective of conditions.
So, what are the challenges facing India?
When teams tour India, one of the biggest threats in front of them is Ravichandran Ashwin.
Ravindra Jadeja and Ashwin hunt in a pair. The off-spinner thrives with the control that Jadeja provides from the other end.
But this time, Ashwin is going to be without his spinning partner for at least the first two Tests, and possibly the full series.
If that is not a big enough a challenge for him, he has a few batsmen in the opposition who play him pretty well.
The four batsmen that have been mentioned in the graph above have pretty much formed the core of England’s middle order recently in subcontinent Tests.
Three of those four average above 60 vs the Indian off-spinner.
Stokes is one batsman that Ashwin enjoys bowling against, as he does against many other left-handed batsmen.
The off-spinner has dismissed him seven times so far in Tests. Five of those wickets came in Stokes’s first tour of India in 2016.
But it is fair to say that Stokes is a much better player right now than he was in 2016 and will be better equipped to face Ashwin.
With respect to Buttler and Bairstow, what might work in Ashwin’s favour is the fact that while the former will fly back home after the first Test, the latter will only join the England squad after the second.
So Ashwin’s main adversary might turn out to be Joe Root, who has been in brilliant form recently, and has scored runs at an average of over 80 against him.
Root has now played 50 sweeps (including reverse sweeps and slog sweeps) in this innings. That’s the highest by any batsman in a single innings since records began in 2006. #SLvEng
— The CricViz Analyst (@cricvizanalyst) January 16, 2021
Ashwin will thus have his task cut out versus an English side that plays spin very well.
All the senior players are coming back into the mix for the England series. But there are still a few names that India will miss dearly.
Shami and Yadav, who have been vital cogs for India in home Tests, are not in the squad for at least the first two matches.
The lengths that these two bowl at prove extremely tricky to negotiate for visiting batsmen. Their skiddy nature of bowling works in Indian conditions as well.
And thus while the bowling group will be bolstered with the return of Ishant Sharma, they will miss two of their best pacers in home conditions.
Ishant and Jasprit Bumrah, who is yet to play a Test in India, will have to shoulder most of the fast-bowling responsibilities.
Ravindra Jadeja is one of India’s most important players in home Tests, not only with the ball but also with the bat.
He is easily one of the best all-rounders in world cricket at the moment.
Overall, since the start of 2016, Ravindra Jadeja averages 47.61 with the bat and 23.57 with the ball in home Tests.
While Ashwin doesn’t have a great record against the core of English middle-order batsman, Jadeja tends to the job a little better, at least against a couple of them.
He has better numbers than Ashwin in terms of match-ups against three of the four batsmen that have been pinned as the core of the English middle order.
While India have the ability to punch above their weight, this England side might not be a straightforward challenge.
With a spot in the final of World Test Championship at stake, we can expect a cracking series.