Rahul Dravid, the last Indian captain to win a Test series in England (in 2007), predicts the upcoming five-Test series between the two teams will end in a 3-2 win for India. The series, scheduled for August-September, will be a "tough" contest overall and a "great series to watch", he said.
"I really do think India have a very good chance this time," Dravid said during a fundraise webinar organised by Live Aid India for Navjyoti India Foundation Trust, to help those affected by Covid-19. "There's no question about their [England's] bowling. Whatever bowling attack England put on the park, especially their seam-bowling attack, is going to be fantastic. They have a lot of players to pick and choose from and that's going to be terrific.
"But if you look at their top six or top seven, you really think of one great batsman, a world-class batsman who is Joe Root. Obviously, Ben Stokes is another one, who is a good allrounder, but for some reason [R] Ashwin seems to do well against him. And that should be an interesting contest. I know he's done well against him [Stokes] in India, but it'll still be an interesting subplot to the series.
"But I just think India will be well-prepared, have the confidence from Australia, there's lot of belief in the squad. A couple of players have been to England a few times, there's a lot of experience in the batting order this time around, so this is probably our best chance, maybe say 3-2 to India."
"After the WTC final, they're going to be in England for a whole month before the Test series starts. I don't think any team has had that kind of time to prepare for a Test series."Rahul Dravid
Dravid's assessment of how well India would do was also based on the Test team's schedule, and the chance they would get to acclimatise to the conditions. The Indian squad will leave for England on June 2, and will first play New Zealand in the World Test Championship final in Southampton from June 18. After that, they are expected to play intra-squad games in the build-up to the first Test in Nottingham on August 4. India do have a limited-overs series lined up against Sri Lanka, possibly in July, but, given quarantine norms, it remains unlikely any of the Test squad will travel to that if it happens in the window between the WTC final and the England Tests.
"I think India will play really well in England this time," Dravid said. "It's a great opportunity we've got. After the WTC final, they're going to be in England for a whole month before the Test series starts. I don't think any team has had that kind of time to prepare for a Test series as India will have this time, so that surely should be a great advantage.
"In England, if there's one thing you've always got to respect, it's the conditions. It's slightly different from say an Australia or India. To some extent you sort of get the feeling [as batsmen] that you're never set. Even if you're set and you get a good start, batting on 30, 40, 50, things can change very quickly, the weather can change, the ball can swing even after it's 40-50 overs old.
"A lot of times in India or even in Australia, the Kookaburra can become soft, it's a lot easier to bat after 40-50 overs. That's not necessarily the case with the Dukes ball. So, it is a case of really being able to concentrate right through the innings and realising that even if you're set, you've got to get a partnership going. Things can change very quickly, so the one piece of advice is when you're set, value your wicket, play one ball at a time and look to take the game deep. If we put runs on the board, we'll be competitive."
India have selected a 20-man squad for the tour with four reserve players, and Dravid felt that the composition of the squad made it clear the team management already knew what their best XI would be.
"It does [seem balanced]," Dravid said. "It's a 20-member squad. The only [other] one who could have merited selection would've been Kuldeep [Yadav], but he's fallen away over the last little bit. Also, with the kind of [recent] performances from Axar [Patel], [Ravindra] Jadeja and Washington [Sundar], they're clear about the kind of balance they want in the squad.
"With both Ashwin and Jadeja adding value with the bat and having like-for-like replacements in Axar and Washy, they're clear about the direction they want to take. It lengthens their batting and all four fingerspinners here allows them to do that. The make-up of the squad tells me they know their best XI even before they leave from here."
India haven't often played both Ashwin and Jadeja in the same XI when travelling abroad, but Dravid felt that could be a viable option this time around because of the quality both spinners have, the balance they bring to the side with their batting, and the fact that England will be wary of preparing tracks that assist seam bowlers too much given India's own strong pace attack.
"Yeah, why not?" Dravid said when asked if Ashwin, Jadeja and three seam bowlers was an option. "I mean, India has had success with that kind of line-up and especially with the way Ashwin and Jadeja have been batting at the moment, it gives them the best all-round balance. Once Hardik Pandya couldn't bowl [following back trouble], India didn't have anyone for that seam-bowling allrounder's slot. If it's a good summer and if it gets dry and pitches turn in England as well, India have the option of playing two really good spinners.
"If India wins a couple of good tosses, India will have two really good spinners. It can turn in UK. They'll be wary of starting with [pitches] too damp and too green because of India's pace-bowling attack. So they'll have to prepare good wickets, and good wickets in England, from my experience of playing there, the sun comes out and if you don't water the wicket for five days, days four and five, it can turn."
Navjyoti India Foundation has raised funds for covid-relief. The donations will pay for PPE safety and prevention kits, vaccine awareness and registration drives, nutrition kits, rations and food. More than US$20,000 was raised during the panel discussion involving Rahul Dravid and Mike Atherton, moderated by Anshu Jain, President Cantor Fitzgerald. You can watch the webinar here.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo