England return to India for a four-match Test series, with the first game taking place in Chennai.
Joe Root's men are coming off the back of an impressive 2-0 series win in Sri Lanka, which meant that they have won their last five Test matches away from home, following their 3-1 series victory in South Africa last winter. Their improvements abroad have been very encouraging, but arguably the toughest test of all awaits them in India.
Root himself is in phenomenal touch, having made two big scores (228 and 186) in the first innings of each Test in Sri Lanka to set up his side's eventual victories and further emphasise his mastery against spin.
However, England will need more elsewhere. The next highest run-scorer in that series was Jonny Bairstow (139) and he is now being rested for the first two Tests. Jos Buttler showed some promising form and Dom Sibley made an unbeaten half-century to guide England home in the second Test, but the tourists will need a lot more if they are to even compete in India.
The hosts are in a buoyant mood, thanks to a phenomenal 2-1 series win in Australia, sealed in the final innings of the final Test in Brisbane. What made their achievement even more remarkable was the number of injuries they received to key players. Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, and Umesh Yadav were all ruled out at some point in the series, while captain and star player Virat Kohli had to leave after the first Test to attend the birth of his first child.
India welcome back a number of key players, however, and will present England with an enormous challenge. No side has won a Test series there since the famous 2-1 triumph by Alastair Cook's men in 2012.
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England arrived in India with some key changes to their personnel: Jonny Bairstow, Sam Curran and Mark Wood are absent for the first two Tests and will be joined by Jos Buttler at the conclusion of the first Test. On the flip side, talisman Ben Stokes and fast bowling superstar Jofra Archer have linked up with the squad and look set for immediate recalls to the side. The return of the pair are seen by fans and pundits alike as crucial in order for England to have any chance of snatching a series win in India.
We can assume the rotation policy around Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson will remain in place, so expect those two to split appearances in the side over the 4 game series. Moeen Ali looks set to play at least one game in the series, much to the dismay of the large population of English fans, while it looks as if the first game may come too soon for Ollie Pope as he recovers from a persistent shoulder issue. This may mean Dan Lawrence has one final chance to impress the selectors and stake his claim for a regular place before Pope becomes available for selection again.
Watch Out For:
India's seamers have rightly received praise recently for their outstanding performances, particularly at home, but the main threat is likely to come from a man with a phenomenal home record. Ashwin has taken 254 Test wickets at 22.8 in India since his debut and possesses an outstanding knowledge of how to bowl in his own conditions. He is also handy with the bat, averaging just under 30 at home, and his lower-order runs will be important in getting India up to big totals.
England may have dispatched Sri Lanka 2-0 but they relied heavily on the runs of Joe Root. Without Stokes, Pope and Burns, the batting looked a tad fragile, but the return of all-rounder Stokes will be a huge boost. His plethora of talents provides a much better balance to England's XI, even if there is a doubt over how much he will bowl. His power, control and experience in the middle-order, however, will be vital to England's chances.
India Team News:
After a plethora of injuries in Australia, India welcome back skipper Virat Kohli, Ravi Ashwin, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah, but are without all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja. The home side are expected to go with five bowlers, with Rishabh Pant continuing at No. 6. Ashwin will lead the spin attack and is likely to be joined by Kuldeep Yadav and one of Washington Sundar and Axar Patel, should the home side go with three spinners.
R. Sharma, S. Gill, C. Pujara, V. Kohli ©, A. Rahane, R. Pant (wk), R. Ashwin, M. Shami/A. Patel/W.Sundar, U. Yadav, K. Yadav, J. Bumrah.
England Team News:
England are boosted by the returns of Rory Burns, Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, and Jofra Archer, who are all expected to slot straight back into the XI. However, Zak Crawley has been ruled out of the first two Tests after slipping and injuring his wrist. As a result, Pope could temporarily move up to No. 3, while promoting Dan Lawrence also remains an option. Dom Bess and Jack Leach are expected to lead the spin attack, although Moeen Ali could also be in contention. One of Stuart Broad or James Anderson completes the team.
R. Burns, D. Sibley, O. Pope, J. Root ©, B. Stokes, D.Lawrence, J. Buttler (wk), D. Bess/M. Ali, J. Archer, J. Leach, S. Broad/J. Anderson.