India in England 2014 July 7, 2014

Five key head-to-heads

From two embattled captains to the challenge for India's openers against the new ball, ESPNcricinfo picks five contests that could determine the series

Alastair Cook v MS Dhoni
Two captains who think defence is the first line of attack, Cook and Dhoni will be under pressure for different reasons coming into the series. His tactical limitations and England's eight-Test run without victory aside, it is a lack of runs - 24 innings since his last hundred - that will weigh heaviest on Cook. When leading England to victory in India 18 months ago, he scored 562, including three centuries. That inflicted a rare defeat at home on India but they continue to travel about as well as ice cream in the desert. It is now three years and 14 Tests since they won away, with Dhoni in charge for all but one of them. Over the course of a five-Test series, will either abandon their innate conservatism?

Peter Moores v Duncan Fletcher
The sphinx-like Fletcher comes up against his original successor in the England job, whose utterances are sometimes equally difficult to decode. Moores has only had 11 weeks in charge since being appointed coach for a second time but, after losing in all three formats to Sri Lanka, a one-off ODI in Scotland remains his sole success. He may reflect uneasily on the parallels with 2007, when he took over following an Ashes whitewash and promptly lost at home to India. For Fletcher, the young batsmen he has groomed for the last three years to replace India's old guard of Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman have begun to produce the requisite stacks of runs. They won the Champions Trophy in England a year ago but, according to Fletcher, suffered from overconfidence on subsequent tours to South Africa and New Zealand.

Ian Bell v Virat Kohli
While the heat of the kitchen has been getting to Cook, Bell has coolly donned the "England's best batsman" apron. With 100 Tests under his belt and having shifted up the order to occupy Kevin Pietersen's old berth at No. 4, Bell is now expected to provide steel and silk to order. Consistency can still be an issue - he followed a Man-of-the-Series 562 runs at 62.44 in last year's Ashes with 235 at 26.11 during the return leg in Australia - and England will need more than the two half-centuries he managed against Sri Lanka. Opposite Bell in the India line-up is Kohli, an avenging angel in limited-overs cricket but who is still negotiating with the devil on his other shoulder in Tests. Nevertheless, his average of 46.51 is already better than Bell's and, as centuries in Adelaide, Johannesburg and Wellington prove, he has the game to flourish overseas.

James Anderson v Shikhar Dhawan
On India's last tour of England, they used four different opening combinations in as many Tests and only managed three stands in double figures, the highest of which was worth 63. While Stuart Broad was England's leading wicket-taker, it was Anderson who knocked over more top-order batsmen, his removal of Virender Sehwag for a king pair at Edgbaston symbolic of India being deposed as the No. 1 Test nation. Dhawan has inherited Sehwag's cutlass as opener but he will hope not to suffer a similar affliction against the swinging ball: in England, Sehwag averaged just 27.80. Dhawan and his partner, Murali Vijay, will face an undeniably wearier Anderson than three years ago, however, and England's attack leader may struggle to get through five Tests crammed into seven weeks.

Spin v Seam
The workload for Anderson and Broad will in part be determined by England's selection and tactics. Unless Moeen Ali is given more overs (or a specialist spinner comes into the side), or India disintegrate with the same alacrity as 2011, England seem bound to rotate their fast bowlers - James Whitaker has already suggested all six seamers in the squad for the first Test will play at some point. India's pace attack, meanwhile, will be greener than the surfaces England hope to be given. However, if the pitches remain flat and dry, as is increasingly the case in England, and the weather warm, it is not inconceivable that spin will play a greater role than expected in determining the series. Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin could yet be trump cards.

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick