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

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  • Dummy4 on July 9, 2014, 7:42 GMT

    i want this line up of indian team 1.dhawan 2.rohit 3.pujara 4.kohli 5.gambhir 6.dhoni 7.binny 8.jadeja 9.shami 10.varun 11.bhuvi

  • Dummy4 on July 9, 2014, 6:58 GMT

    dhawan vijay/gambhir pujara kohli rahane/rohit dhoni jadeja binny/ashwin bhuvi shami ishant/ishwar/pankaj /varun wsaha if dhoni s unfit thisshouldbe the compositions ofthe team according to the conditions the nature ofthe wicket and form of the players

  • Android on July 8, 2014, 19:30 GMT

    It took only one Mitchell Johnson last year to turn the tables for Australia against England. (Warner, Clarke and Haddin played well too but it was Johnson who started the surge..... Johnson was that X-factor. For India too, it must be a bowler or two who stands up, for the whole world already knows that even this young inexperienced bunch of batsmen gave Steyn, Philander and Morkel a run for their money, at their own backyard, where they had previously reduced teams to scores of under 100 with consummate ease. bhuvneshwar is a good bowler, and though he will be amongst the wickets, he isn't gonna destroy the whole England batting line up. Shami neither , so it might have to be either of Ishant Sharma or Varun Aaron. johnson's emergence was unexpected, as is the case with these two, so all it takes is just one spell to remind England of Ashes, and that's all it'll take. Just one terrific spell to set the wheels of revenge on motion. Who's gonna be India's Mitch?

  • dinusha on July 8, 2014, 18:59 GMT

    Really enjoyed the way sri lankan pacers attacked England. Line and length was brilliant and sign of good old body line attack was breathtaking. Can india do the same?? Of course they can. Will they successful? Definitely not. Indian attack is lack of stamina and courage. And india dont have chaminda vaas as bowling coach.

  • asad on July 8, 2014, 18:02 GMT

    @Darkmanx12155: Are you talking about the same Ishant that we all know or some other Ishant? There is 100 possible wickets to be taken in these 5 test and at 164 wickets Ishant needs 36 more to reach 200. That means a bit more than 7 wickets per test. I doubt Ishant is capable of taking 7 wickets each test for 5 tests. And if Ishant is India's Wasim Akram then I guess it's fair enough to say Imran Farhat is Pakistan's Sachin Tendulkar.

  • Rav on July 8, 2014, 15:55 GMT

    The 6th key 'head to head' battle will be between both of these teams against the media.

    @neil99 this Indian 'attack' isn't even close to the skill levels, variety and discipline of Sri Lanka. The best result India could hope for is a 0-1 or 0-2 loss. They might be able to salvage a couple of draws at best, but the bowlers certainly won't be able to dismiss England twice under any circumstances. Batsmen of the caliber of Cook have probably faced much higher standards of seam bowling at club cricket level, not even county cricket.

  • vageesan on July 8, 2014, 11:40 GMT

    Vijay, Dhawan, Pujara, Kohli, Rahane, Dhoni, Binny, Jadeja, Bhuvi, Shammi, Pankaj

    Surely this will be the best team for the first test. If Binny is playing in any of this 5 test matches it should be in trent bridge, where is medium pace bowling will be most effective. May be later in the series, Ashwin can replace binny depending on the surface and binny s performance. I sincerely hope the above team to be picked by MSD in the best interest of the indian team winning the match.

  • Dummy4 on July 8, 2014, 11:24 GMT

    It will be new generation FAB 4 for India. Pujara-Kohli-Rahane-Rohit, all this four are here to stay and will score loads of runs for India. This 5 match series as well as 4 match series vs Australia in Dec will be making of them as the stable batting order for India for years to come. Dhawan will be there for some years too, but Vijay will be first to go from the lot and New young fella will take that baton from him for opener. So in coming years only openers slot will be easily available for youngsters. And we will have to wait still we find two good openers, till than we can go with vijay and shikar. Next time India should find opener-wk batsmen so we will be able to play and allrounder in the team (Jadeja or Ashwin or Binny or Rishi Dhawan). Best wishes for India team. Sure they will fight and win the series by margin of 3 tests.

  • Dark on July 8, 2014, 11:06 GMT

    This is the tour which will make or break ishant. He will get to his 200th test wicket by the end of the series and he will become the MOS. he is the current wasim akram of india!

  • Neil on July 8, 2014, 10:45 GMT

    A lot of comments here about the Indian bowlers bring unable to take 20 wickets. You lot have short memories! The Sri Lanka attack was laughed at only a few months ago and look what they achieved!

    Ultimately, I think the series will be disappointing in terms of quality, but the series will hinge upon 2-3 sessions, where Cook will hand tests to India on a plate through poor tactical decisions.

    India might just sneak this either 2-1 or 1-0.

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