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England is facing a daunting task as they try to break India's stronghold in their home matches.
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England is facing a daunting task as they try to break India’s stronghold in their home matches.


The journey through Vizag, known as the great zigzag, will commence as England arrives in lively Hyderabad on Sunday for a five-Test match against India starting on Thursday. This marks the start of an eight-week tour where they will travel back and forth across the nation before concluding in the Himalayan foothills.

The first-timers will almost certainly coo at the snow-capped peaks when they reach Dharamsala for the series finale in mid-March, with the size of the task between now and then pretty much on a par. It has been 11 years and one month since India last felt the pain of a Test series defeat on home soil – a memorable 2-1 triumph by Alastair Cook’s side in late 2012 – and no side has even held them to a draw along the way.

In 2016, Australia was ahead 1-0, but they were able to make a comeback and win one match after being down 2-0 for 12 months. England won the first game of their pandemic tour in 2021, but these three defeats were unusual for India. They have been dominant at home with 36 wins out of 46 Tests. Although they have not performed as well in the World Test Championship finals in England, their home ground has become their stronghold.

Out of the current players on the India team, only three have experienced a different time. Virat Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin, and Ravindra Jadeja were all part of the team in Nagpur when Cook’s 2012 team made a noteworthy impact on English cricket history. These three players have played a crucial role in the team’s success since then, with Kohli asserting himself as captain and skilled batsman, and Ashwin and Jadeja forming a formidable spin duo that has elevated them to all-rounder status.

There have been some changes since England’s last visit. Rohit Sharma is now the captain, taking over from Kohli. Rishabh Pant, who played a crucial role in India’s 3-1 victory, has not returned since being involved in a serious car accident in late 2022. Cheteshwar Pujara seems to have retired, and Mohammed Shami is unable to play in the first two Tests. Shami’s most recent match was the World Cup final loss to Australia, which ended his personally successful campaign.

Despite the absence of a few key players and the inclusion of some new, talented individuals from India’s growing pool of players, the established and reliable members of the team present a formidable challenge, especially with the use of the SG ball. Ashwin, currently the top-ranked Test bowler in the world and just 10 wickets away from reaching 500, is one of three Indians in the top five of the International Cricket Council rankings. Along with the explosive pace of Jasprit Bumrah and Jadeja’s skilled left-arm spin, they form a formidable trio.

Virat Kohli.

What is the likelihood of Ben Stokes joining the ranks of Douglas Jardine, Tony Greig, David Gower, and Cook as one of the few England men’s captains to win in India? Considering India’s strong record and England’s inexperienced spin attack, led by Jack Leach who is returning from an injury, it seems unlikely that this feat will be achieved.

There may be a glimmer of hope in the midst of uncertainty for England as they embark on their challenging tour of India. The Bazball project continues to evolve, with captain Stokes determined to approach this series in a unique manner. However, the ultimate outcome remains to be seen.

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England may not prioritize the final score, as they are committed to their philosophy of taking risks, having fun, and seeing where it leads them. While there are valid concerns about their offensive capabilities, compounded by the potential absence of Stokes as a bowler but with his resourcefulness still needed, the main point of interest lies in how a team that has maintained a 4.8 runs per over average for the past year and a half will fare in a country where Ashwin’s spin has proved challenging and only a few teams have surpassed an average of three runs per over.

A high-wire act on turning tracks looks on the cards, the outcome of which will probably frame England’s preparation in hindsight. Opting against warm-up matches and plumping for an 11-day training camp in Abu Dhabi has got a good few backs up but Stokes and Brendon McCullum believe there is method in what many think is madness. They can also point to the same approach before Pakistan last winter, when they dropped in like a parachute regiment and claimed an unprecedented 3-0 clean sweep.

There is the broader question of where England’s first Test series since last summer’s Ashes sits in the grand scheme of things, the franchise world swelling with every passing week. It is being staged away from the major centres in India, too – Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam (aka Vizag), Rajkot, Ranchi and Dharamshala – although whether this points to lesser status for the series is up for debate. The Board of Control for Cricket in India has more than 25 international venues to keep sweet and the middle three missed out on World Cup matches.

Regardless of the approach they take, England faces a daunting task.

Source: theguardian.com