Let me start this blog by saying that the concept of the ICC World Test Championship (WTC) is really exciting for cricket connoisseurs like me who love Test cricket, as every series now has context (read points) with a goal in mind; that is, to be world champions.
I was excited to see the WTC 2021-23 schedule announced and the fact that the India versus England series in England (starting in early August) will be the first series in this cycle, is exciting news.
India, though they ended up second best in the WTC final of the first cycle, are a team that will challenge England on its home soil and I’m expecting them to repeat the feat of 2007, when under Rahul Dravid they last won a series there.
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This might sound pompous at this stage but there are reasons behind my faith.
For starters, India possess a balanced bowling attack of quality seamers and spinners. Between Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Siraj, India can play any three of them and have the same potency. R Ashwin is the best in business today and has proved again during the WTC final that he doesn’t need a spinning surface to be potent. Ravindra Jadeja will come into his own as the series progresses and he is a proper batsman offering fifth bowler services in English conditions. Warm weather will be an able ally too.
Second, the experience at the top. Rohit Sharma has given much required solidity to India both in Australia and the WTC final in England. With one of Mayank Agarwal or Shubman Gill as a partner (Gill may be ruled out for few Tests with an injury), Rohit should give India consistent 50+ starts in most innings and I expect at least one big innings from him. I have been a huge fan of Rohit since 2008 when he won India the CB series in Australia, and always knew he would make his mark in Tests.
Last but not the least, the experienced middle order of Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Rishabh Pant. I included Pant because he is the only India wicketkeeper to score centuries in England and Australia and his second-innings 44 in the WTC final is a precursor to what we can expect in the next two months. Expect Kohli and Rahane to score plenty in their third England tour. At one down, Cheteshwar Pujara is the only question mark, but with Hanuma Vihari and KL Rahul as able back-ups, India are well served.
I expect the same core group to stick together till 2023. The next two series are against New Zealand at home and then in South Africa are tough but winnable for this Indian cricket team. India will enjoy home series against Sri Lanka and Australia before playing their last series in the WTC cycle against Bangladesh, a final push to quality for the final of the WTC 2021-23.
One step at at time is my mantra for this supremely confident India Test team. Expect India to win the England series 2-1 with two hard fought draws.
As always, my starting 11 for India in the Nottingham Test will be:
1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Mayank Agarwal, 3 Hanuma Vihari, 4 Virat Kohli (capt), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Rishabh Pant (wk), 7 Raivindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Mohammed Siraj.
I got 10 out of 11 correct in my earlier prediction on WTC final, so let’s see where this one stands.