When the current Indian team came to England about two months ago, they were chasing a dream. It was crushed as Virat Kohli’s boys lost to New Zealand in the World Test Championship final. The team took a break, recharged batteries, and came together again, but the pressure to deliver seems to have mounted ahead of the five-Test series that begins at the Trent Bridge in Nottingham on Wednesday.
They have been training hard for the last few days, but probably to keep themselves mentally fresh, the team decided not to practice on the eve of the game.
“It’s going to be difficult cricket, we know that, but we like to play out of our comfort zones,” Kohli said during an interaction.
The pitch, predictably, wears a green look. England, bruised and battered on rank turners in India a few months ago, want to get their revenge. Their pace battery, with James Anderson leading the line, is keen to fire and Kohli is getting irritated by any queries about how he will deal with the king of swing.
“I will play, that’s all,” Kohli quipped, when asked about his preparations to deal with Anderson. That he will, but before that the captain has to deal with a serious problem of cobbling up an opening partnership that can put up some resistance. After Mayank Agarwal got injured, the Indian team management has to play a new opener, but Kohli was not keen to let out who will it be among KL Rahul, Abhimanyu Easwaran and Hanuma Vihari.
“We will announce the XI tomorrow (Wednesday) and you will know then,” Kohli said.
Given the pedigree and past record, it should be Rahul, unless of course the Karnataka man himself insists that he doesn’t want to open. With a green-top on offer, the team could be tempted to play Shardul Thakur as the bowling allrounder ahead of Ravindra Jadeja and go in with a four-man pace attack — the other three likely being Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami and Mohammad Siraj.
“Shardul is a multi-dimensional cricketer and can be created into an allrounder. Someone like him brings a lot of balance to the Test team,” Kohli said. The skipper probably remembers the last time the two teams played at the same venue and it was Hardik Pandya who won them the Test with the ball.
But for the bowlers to come into the picture, the batsmen will have to deliver. The WTC final, which India lost in basically three and a half days of cricket, cruelly exposed the team’s frailties against the moving ball. That’s an area the team has tried to address in the practice game and training sessions leading up to the first Test.
“We have been here for a while and acclimatized ourselves well to the conditions,” Kohli said.
One thing that the Indian team management will take into account is the fact that England, too, haven’t played too much red-ball cricket of late. Anderson said that most of their players are going into this Test with basically two First-Class games under their belt this season.
“Such has been the nature of the season and we will have to deal with it,” Anderson said.
The absence of Ben Stokes, who pulled out of the series due to mental health issues, will also disturb the balance of the hosts. It’s to be seen whether Kohli & Co. can take advantage of it and make a strong opening statement for the English summer.