After one of the lowest key build-ups to a home Test series in years, England finally lock horns with India at Trent Bridge on Wednesday.
With five Tests in six weeks, this will be an unrelenting period for Joe Root’s team both physically and mentally. At the end of it all is an Ashes series in Australia, yet that can be parked for now given the challenge that awaits an England side shorn of three of their best players in Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes.
The withdrawal of Stokes for mental-health and injury reasons has been a body blow to the hosts, even if the all-rounder’s decision to take an indefinite break from the game has been widely applauded.
Archer, who will again see a consultant after a setback in his recovery from the chronic elbow injury he had surgery on in May, is also likely to miss the entire series. Woakes, out for the first two Tests with a heel injury, could return for the last three matches.
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Yet the bigger picture is that an England team who were beaten 3-1 in India earlier this year and lost 1-0 to New Zealand at the start of this summer are extremely vulnerable.
There are still enough quality players to help Root’s men to a repeat of their 4-1 success against these same opponents on their last visit to England in 2018. However, Virat Kohli and his players must be sensing a huge opportunity.
Most of the XI who will take the field for England in Nottingham today have struggled to get any volume of first-class cricket under their belts in recent weeks. The Hundred, the new tournament that has taken over the peak-summer schedule and dominated the narrative ahead of this series, has been the only outlet for many players.
And those not involved in the Hundred had to scramble around to get meaningful practice in whatever nets were available.
James Anderson, one of those players, admits: “It’s not been ideal with lots of other cricket going on that’s all been white-ball stuff, whether that’s county cricket or the Hundred. We’ve just been trying to find places to bowl, to make sure we are ticking over.
“For me this summer has been quite stop-start, so I am looking forward to getting my teeth into a five-match series. We’re really ready to get going and keen to improve from that New Zealand series earlier in the summer, where I don’t feel we gave a great showing of ourselves. I think we can do much better than that.”
England will be without Ollie Pope for this first Test thanks to a thigh injury, with Dan Lawrence his replacement. Jos Buttler is likely to also move up the order to No6 as England try to fill the gap left by Stokes, with Sam Curran at seven and Ollie Robinson at eight. That should also allow Jack Leach to play his first Test since India last winter.
England, confronted by harshly-turning pitches after winning the opening Test, lost the final three matches heavily, failing to score 200 in six of their eight innings in that series. Kohli believes mental scars might remain for some batsmen even if conditions in England will be wildly different.
“That all depends on the batsman, working out how much scarring they carry with them when they walk out to bat,” said India’s captain. “That’s basically how I see. I can vouch for the fact we definitely have the ability to bowl them out on a consistent basis.
“That’s the kind of quality we possess. We are very confident of doing that very often in the series.”
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