While their supremacy in shorter formats is redoubtable despite the recent 1-2 ODI series defeat to England, India will have their task cut out against a vastly improved England outfit when the gruelling five-match Test series kicks off at Birmingham on August 1. It’s true that India are deservedly sitting pretty at the top of the ICC Test rankings, but it would be erroneous to take fifth placed England lightly, particularly in their own backyard where India’s past record doesn’t really paint a rosy picture. Drubbed 1-3 in their previous visit in 2014 after receiving a 0-4 thrashing in the trip prior to that in 2011, Virat Kohli & Co needs to be at the top of their form to turn the tide this time around.
On strong footing
While their overseas performance has always been under scanner, the present Indian squad looks well balanced on paper to put up a fight, if not a defining one, against the Joe Root led England. The only worrying factor for India is the uncertainty over the participation of key pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar — the team’s standout performer during the last tour in 2014 — in the five-Test series after he aggravated a “lower back condition” during the third ODI. Yet, the return of Mohammad Shami will add strength to the seam attack to be led by the experienced duo of Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma.
The batting too looks formidable with Shikhar Dhawan finding some form in the limited over games, and is likely to team up with Murali Vijay at the top. Though he didn’t do much with the willow during his stint with Yorkshire, Cheteshwar Pujara’s county experience ahead of the Test series must have given him much needed confidence and enough time to get acclimatised with the unpredictable English conditions. But India’s fortunes will largely rest on the shoulders of Virat Kohli, the skipper with some points to prove in the upcoming series. While the prolific scorer has amassed runs in most cricket playing countries across the world, England has not yet been his happy hunting ground. With just 134 runs to show from five Tests he played on English soil sans a fifty or a century, Kohli must be itching to rub off the glitch from his otherwise exceptional batting record.
Back where it started
Overall, India have played 57 Tests in England between 1932 and 2014, losing 30, drawing 21 and winning just six. With just three series victories to their name — in 1971, 1986 and 2007 — India will surely like to give it their all to better the record this time around.
The rivalry between the two great cricket playing nations go back a long way. It was in England, at the Lord’s, that India opened its account in Test cricket way back in June 1932. India set foot on the shores of England as rank underdogs and played its first official Test match on June 25 under the captaincy of CK Nayudu. The hosts were led by Douglas Jardine, who was also at the heart of the infamous ‘Bodyline’ series against Australia later that year. While India were yet to be tested at the highest level, the fast bowling duo of Mohammad Nissar (5/93) and Amar Singh (2/75) gave the established English batters a hard time after Jardine opted to bat with England eventually folding for 259. But India couldn’t capitalise on the good start as they were bowled out for 189 with skipper Nayudu topscoring with 40. In the second essay, England declared at 275, helped by an unbeaten 85 by Jardine. For the visitors, medium pacer Jahangir Khan bagged four wickets. Set a victory target of 346, the Indian team succumbed to pressure and were all out for 187, thus handing England the match by 158 runs.
Making history, 1971
India had to wait 39-long years before tasting a Test series victory on English soil. The historic 1-0 win in the three-Test series (2 were drawn) in 1971 under Ajit Wadekar has played a significant role in vanquishing India’s fear of facing tough opponents on hostile away conditions. The first Test at Lord’s and the second at Old Trafford were drawn before India pulled off a memorable 4-wicket victory in the Third Test at The Oval. The match was also significant as it ended England’s run of 26 Tests without a defeat. On August 24, 1971, India achieved their first Test victory in England. While each member of India’s playing XI was a hero in that outstanding win, the one who really stood out was legspinner Bhagwat Chandrasekhar. Spinning a web around the batsmen during the second innings, Chandrasekhar took 6/38 as England were bowled out for 101 after claiming a 71-run lead over India. Set 173 to win, handy contributions from Wadekar (45*), Dilip Sardesai (40), Gundappa Vishwanath (33) and Farokh Engineer (28*) helped India script a momentous victory.
Band of 1986
It took India another 15 years to win their second Test series in England. India were unstoppable under Kapil Dev, winning the three-Test series 2-0 (1 draw). In the first Test at Lord's, Dilip Vengsarkar achieved a unique feat by becoming the first overseas batsman to score three centuries at the Home of Cricket. However, the Man of the Match was Kapil, who took four vital wickets in the England second innings that left India chasing a lowly target of 134. And when India were stumbling in the chase, Kapil walked in at No.7 and struck an unbeaten 23 off 10 balls. In what turned out to be the final over of the game by Phil Edmonds, the skipper smashed 18 runs including the match-winning six. Vengsarkar was again in the thick of affairs in the second Test at Leeds, smashing another century. Seamer Roger Binny and spinner Maninder Singh did bulk of the damage with the ball to rout England for 102 and 128 in the two innings as India thrashed England by a thumping margin of 279 runs to seal the series with a Test to spare.
The standout performer for India in the tour was, however, medium pacer Chetan Sharma. It had been barely few weeks since Sharma faltered at the finishing line in the Australasia Cup final at Sharjah -– getting hit for a six off the final delivery of the match by Javed Miandad with Pakistan needing 4 for victory. However, Sharma proved his haters wrong by some lion-hearted performances in England. The diminutive seamer took 16 wickets in two Tests, including the first 10-wicket haul by an Indian bowler in that country.
On top in 2007
The recent troubles in England have shown how difficult it is for India to win in conditions where the ball swings heavily. But the script was very different in 2007, when everything, including luck, fell in place for the visitors who won the inaugural Pataudi Trophy -- a prize commissioned by the MCC to commemorate the 118th anniversary of India’s Test debut –- after winning the series 1-0 under Rahul Dravid.
In the first Test at Lord’s, India were one wicket away from defeat when a confident LBW appeal against last man Sreesanth was turned down before rain washed out the final session of the match. In the second Test at Nottingham, England made the fatal mistake of provoking Zaheer Khan by placing some jelly beans at the crease when he came out to bat. An incensed Zaheer, who had already taken four wickets, added five more in the second innings as India cantered home by seven wickets. The final Test at The Oval was drawn after India won the toss and piled up 664, with Anil Kumble scoring his maiden Test ton in his 118th match. It was India’s first (and till date last) Test series win in England in 21 years.