August 1 to 5; 15:30 IST
Live on SPN, streaming on SonyLiv
The main picture
When the India cricket team boarded the flight to England in late June, this leg (the five-Test series) of their tour was arguably the most anticipated. After what happened to India in South Africa, where they went into the three-Test series without playing a practice match and which also came first on the tour itinerary, the Indian team management asked the BCCI to schedule the limited-overs series (T20I and ODI) before the Test series in the future tours of England and Australia, allowing the team to get acclimatised to the conditions.
However, a few of the Test specialists (Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, among others) have joined up with the rest of the squad only after the conclusion of the ODI series on July 18. While this is a long, five-Test series, which affords the teams time to feel their way into it, we will get to see if being in the country for a month, and playing white-ball cricket, actually helps Virat Kohli and co. fare better in the Test series starting Wednesday.
India and England are quite evenly-matched in terms of their recent form and that of the players too. England have won only one of their last nine Tests (losing six and drawing two) starting with the Ashes 2017-18, and the batting has failed to click as a unit during this lean phase. The bowling attack remains potent with James Anderson and Stuart Broad as the protagonists, though the lack of a proven third seamer might prove hazardous.
The absence of Jasprit Bumrah and the ineffectiveness of a half-fit Bhuvneshwar Kumar were felt by India during the ODI series, which they lost 2-1 after winning the first match. Bhuvneshwar hasn’t been named in the squad for the first three Tests and has returned to India with a back injury, while Bumrah, according to the BCCI, is not available for selection for the Edgbaston Test.
So, if India are to give themselves a chance of winning this Test series, their third, fourth and fifth-choice bowlers (under normal circumstances) will have to deliver the goods. The Indian team management also have the challenge of getting the team composition right, starting with the opening pair between M Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and Lokesh Rahul.
The challenges for India and England are obvious, though overcoming them barely look straightforward. The phase between the 2011 and 2015 ICC Cricket World Cups was when England were at their best as a Test side—during which period they won a Test series in India in extraordinary fashion and were ranked No. 1 for a long time. Though they remain a good Test side with quality players, this series is very much about redeeming themselves in a format in which they have lost their mojo.
India are on their second major overseas tour of this calendar year and they continue to try to become a good travelling team, even though their last Test series win outside the sub-continent wasn’t a while ago (New Zealand in 2009). The team management have had their way in terms of the tour schedule, but the real test starts Wednesday.
Pitch report and weather forecast
The English weather in the last 24 hours has been very different from what India have experienced since landing in the country. Multiple T20 Blast fixtures scheduled for Sunday (July 29) were abandoned without a ball being bowled due to rain. And the overhead conditions will undoubtedly dictate the way the Edgbaston pitch behaves. Stuart Broad said on Saturday, that even the groundsmen won’t know how the pitch will behave given the prevailing weather conditions.
The weather forecast for all five days is for sunshine for large parts and very little threat of rain.
India vs England head to head in Test
India and England have played 117 Tests to date, with India winning only 25 of them, losing 43 and drawing 49. India’s Test record in England is extremely poor, having won only six of the 57 Tests in the country.
India vs England 1st Test playing 11
England have announced their playing XI a day ahead of the Test match.
England playing XI: 1 Joe Root (c), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Keaton Jennings, 4 Dawid Malan, 5 Jos Buttler, 6 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 7 Ben Stokes, 8 Adil Rashid, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 James Anderson, 11 Sam Curran
With an 18-man squad to choose from, injuries to two leaders of the bowling attack and two top-order batsmen misfiring in the solitary warm-up match, the Indian team management have plenty of selection issues. Murali Vijay is certain to be one of the openers, but who partners him is the first major question. Shikhar Dhawan got himself a pair in the warm-up match against Essex, but he comes into this Test match on the back of a century in the previous one. Secondly, India must also decide if they want to play two spinners, which will be strange for a touring team. If conditions necessitate, though, Kuldeep Yadav is likely to play alongside Ravichandran Ashwin. Playing two spinners will mean only one of Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav partners Ishant Sharma.
Possible India playing 11: 1 Virat Kohli (c), 2 Murali Vijay, 3 Lokesh Rahul/Shikhar Dhawan, 4 Cheteshwar Pujara, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Dinesh Karthik, 7 Hardik Pandya/Umesh Yadav, 8 Ravichandran Ashwin, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Ishant Sharma
Both teams have very little separating them at the start of this Test series. England are playing with their first-choice XI and hold a slight edge for this Test match. India need to get a lot of aspects—team composition and tactics primarily—right, to give themselves a chance.