England face India in the first of a five-Test series at Trent Bridge starting on Wednesday, with Joe Root’s men looking to avenge their 3-1 reverse in the sub-continent earlier this year.
Below AFP Sport looks at five points that could influence the outcome of what promises to be a fascinating series.
The Kohli factor
— India captain Virat Kohli is one of the outstanding batsmen of his generation and on his side’s last tour of England scored an impressive 593 runs.
But his recent form has been below the high standard associated with his career.
In eight Tests since the beginning of 2020, Kohli has only made 345 runs at an average of 24.64, with the way New Zealand’s Kyle Jamieson nipped the ball off the seam to him in India’s World Test Championship final loss, an example for England to follow.
Stokes absence a worry for England
— England were dealt a huge blow when Ben Stokes announced Friday he was taking an indefinite break from all forms of cricket to “prioritise his mental well-being”.
In 71 Tests, he has scored 4,631 runs at 37.04 as a dynamic left-handed batsman, including 10 hundreds, and taken 163 wickets at 31.38.
But more than the raw figures, it his ability to balance the team, and above all turn a game with bat or ball, that make Stokes such a valuable player.
England may now be reluctant to field a specialist spinner without the re-assurance provided by their star all-rounder.
And a further concern is that if Stokes, who prides himself on being a big-match performer, is struggling with the pressure of playing international cricket amid off-field Covid restrictions, how many more players feel the same way?
— England’s batting was exposed during a 1-0 series loss to New Zealand in June that ended their seven-year run of unbeaten campaigns on home soil.
Although England captain Root boasts an impressive Test average of 48.68, the next best in his side belongs to opener Rory Burns, with 33.23, while the recent form of Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope does not inspire confidence.
Crawley in particular has seen his returns in Test cricket decline dramatically since making a brilliant 267 against Pakistan, with a mere 123 runs in 12 subsequent innings at an average of 10.25.
— Although this is a five-match series, it spans just 42 days in total and that will add to the strain on fast bowlers on both sides, who may find themselves having to fire-up again with precious little time between their stints in the middle.
India, as has become common during the pandemic, have brought an enlarged squad to England. Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah, who shared 32 wickets between them in 2018, are both set to be involved again as is off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, with Mohammed Shami also capable of troubling the hosts with his accuracy.
For England, the temptation to rely on veteran new-ball duo James Anderson and Stuart Broad, their two leading wicket-takers in Test cricket, will be strong especially as the likes of Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes are currently injured.
— India have not won a Test series in England since 2007 and their last two visits, in 2011 and 2018, ended in heavy 4-0 and 4-1 defeats respectively.
But as their stunning success in Australia earlier this year proved, achieved in the face of a raft of injuries and the strain of biosecure cricket, India can no longer be dismissed as “lions at home and lambs abroad”.
© Agence France-Presse