By Amlan Chakraborty
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India have not lost a test series at home in more than a decade but that formidable record will be under threat when Rohit Sharma’s side take on England in a five-match series beginning in Hyderabad on Thursday.
Ben Stokes returns from knee surgery to skipper the side under coach Brendon McCullum, with the pair ready to unleash the ultra-aggressive approach which has injected new life into the test format.
England have not lost a test series since the duo took charge in 2022 but beating India in India, which former Australia captain Steve Waugh famously called the “final frontier”, remains the toughest challenge in the game.
With their last test series defeat coming in the 2012-13 season, India will start as favourites despite having a Virat Kohli-shaped hole in their batting order.
Kohli will miss the first two matches due to personal reasons and the late development has left India wondering how they will replace arguably the best batter of this era.
Veteran Cheteshwar Pujara finds himself back in the reckoning, while uncapped duo Rajat Patidar and Sarfaraz Khan are also reported to be in the mix.
Another big question for the hosts is who to pick as wicketkeeper, a key role on India’s generously turning tracks.
Ideally, specialist KS Bharat would be behind the stumps but in Kohli’s absence India may look to KL Rahul’s superior batting.
India’s bid to win a 17th consecutive home test series, however, hinges on the success of their three-pronged spin attack comprising Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel.
Jasprit Bumrah has complimented England for “showing the world there’s another way to play test cricket” but the pace spearhead believes their approach suits him.
“As a bowler, what I think is that it keeps me in play,” Bumrah told the Guardian newspaper.
“And if they’re going for it, playing so fast, they won’t tire me out, I could get heaps (of wickets).
“I always think about how I can use things to my advantage. Kudos to them but, as a bowler, you’re in the game.”
England have already been forced to rejig their batting order after Harry Brook withdrew due to personal reasons.
Ollie Pope is set to play at number three, while Ben Foakes is likely to reclaim the keeping gloves with Jonny Bairstow playing as a specialist batter.
While England’s approach has injected fresh excitement into test cricket, McCullum said being one-dimensional would not fly in India.
“That’s what I love about this series – we are going to be tested, and our methods are going to be challenged and we’ll see where we are at,” said the former New Zealand captain.
“We’ve got to take 20 wickets with the ball in each test match and we’ve got to get one more run than them with the bat.
“It’s not rocket science but it will be the nuances of the game, when to stick and when to twist which will be the fascinating part.”
India: Rohit Sharma (captain), Shubman Gill, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul, KS Bharat, Dhruv Jurel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Siraj, Mukesh Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Avesh Khan
England: Ben Stokes (captain), Rehan Ahmed, James Anderson, Gus Atkinson, Jonny Bairstow, Dan Lawrence, Shoaib Bashir, Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Ben Foakes, Tom Hartley, Jack Leach, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Joe Root, Mark Wood
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Peter Rutherford)