India and England square off in the first of five Tests starting on Wednesday 9 November 2016.
If India’s dress rehearsal against New Zealand is anything to go by, Trevor Bayliss and his English side have plenty to worry about as they prepare for the first Test of their tour to India.
Will England be able to stand up to the barrage of spin they’re likely to face in Rajkot or will India continue the trend of steamrolling all who dare challenge them on home soil? Let’s take a look!
India vs England | Wed 9 Nov – Sun 13 Nov | Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium | Rajkot
To Win Match
India 5/10 | Draw 31/10 | England 5/1
The Indians are massive favourites to win this first match at Rajkot, and you can hardly blame the bookmakers. They haven’t lost a Test on the Sub-Continent since the 2012/13 season where – yep, you guessed it – England beat them 2-1 in a three-match series, where Kevin Pietersen and Alistair Cook starred on far more friendlier pitches.
A lot has changed since then, however. Indian wickets have become near impossible to bat on when the spinners are in operation. India’s cause is of course helped by the fact that they can call on Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja to toss down rippers on the rank turners that Indian curators are preparing around the country.
It came as no surprise to see the two top the wicket-taking charts in India’s recently concluded series against New Zealand. Ashwin helped himself to a staggering 27 wickets in three games while Jadeja bagged 14 in the same amount of games. That means that of the 57 wickets claimed by the bowlers throughout the series, Ashwin and Jadeja were responsible 41 scalps (or 71.9% of the wickets taken)
To say that these two will have a significant role to play in this series is probably the understatement of the century. The equation is simple: if these two bowl consistently well throughout the series then India should win comfortably.
While I can sit here and speak about India’s spin duo for days at a time, we also need to look at the side as a batting unit. The Indian top order all did reasonably well against New Zealand with Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma all averaging above 50 against a very strong Black Cap bowling attack.
The one area of weakness in this Indian side is probably their opening partnership. Shikhar Dhawan’s injury has forced Anil Kumble to play around with his opening pair, with Murali Vijay, Gautam Gambhir and KL Rahul all opening with varying degrees of success. I’m of the opinion that Vijay and Gambhir will continue to open. With India’s top middle order in such good form, it’s not the biggest issue in the world if the opening pair don’t set the most spectacular of platforms.
Looking ahead, I don’t really see any way that India can lose this Test. They tick all of the necessary boxes and don’t really have to deal with vastly talented English spinners. At 5/10, you simply can’t ignore them and should get on early before this price shortens.
England have an enormous mountain to climb if they are to get anything out of this series. With Moeen Ali as their frontline spinner to be supported by Adil Rashid and the fresh-faced Haseeb Hameed; I simply don’t see the visitors really troubling the hosts.
Graeme Swann said it best when he spoke to the media saying that English spinners are treated as “third class citizens”. Even Ali, who has proven his worth with the ball across all three formats of the game is still considered “part-time”. He came out and said “"We don't take spin seriously in this country, and then bemoan the fact that we haven't got world-class spinners when we go to the subcontinent.”
He’s right in a way. Swann was arguably one of the best spinners England ever produced but only really got a proper look into the Test side at the age of 27. This despite being selected six years prior for England’s tour to South Africa.
Much of the responsibility will fall squarely in the laps of the seamers. Chris Woakes, Steven Finn, Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad will all likely feature in the series. Maybe not all at the same time, but they’ll be asked to toil away in sweltering conditions.
While there are endless combinations that England could use in the bowling department, it’ll be far more interesting to see how the batsmen cope with these raging Indian turners. Alistair Cook will need to anchor the innings in Rajkot as one of the few batsmen who have experience playing Tests in India.
The rest of the batting unit have precious little experience playing in India. Even Joe Root has only played a single Test in India. How the likes of Gary Ballance, Johnny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes will all battle against the spin barrage that they’re likely to face.
It’s difficult trying to read too much into England’s chances before we’ve even seen them play a game on this tour. They haven’t even had the luxury of a warm-up game which seems strange for such a high-profile tour. Having said that, I don’t think the English stand much of a chance and will likely be trying to limit their losses before the limited overs segments of the tour.
Verdict: India at 5/10
Why bookmakers are still offering India at 5/10 in home Tests, I’ll never know! It’s great news for punters, though! Grab as much of this 5/10 price as you’ll allow yourself before it shortens!
Written by Jason Dewey for @Hollywoodbets.