It's funny to think that a series of this magnitude - with these teams and these players - has flown under the radar over the last month. Relatively speaking.
Trent Bridge was doused in the Hundred's branding a couple of days ahead of the first Test, and even when it's not on, the IPL has influenced cricket scheduling across the world, including pushing an England tour of Bangladesh 18 months into the future
. That the ECB's and the BCCI's premium products will hold sway in this day and age is understandable, perhaps, but it is hard to imagine this series won't be front and centre when it kicks off on Wednesday.
For one, it will be played to a full house. For another, it's rare that a team can lose a series 3-1
and have a chance at a comeback in the same year - over five Tests, no less. England's defeat in India this year meant the end of their WTC ambitions. Now, it's a chance to set the tone early against the runners-up, who have managed two wins in their last three tours of England.
India's leadership has argued that the 4-1 scoreline on their 2018 tour was not an accurate reflection of how closely fought the series was, and upon that will rest their approach this time around. In the time since, this is a squad that has grown in depth and shown it can find ways to win overseas; they haven't yet done it in swing-friendly conditions, however, and it's a challenge that Virat Kohli said his team is craving.
They won't be the only ones. England are without Ben Stokes
, which could potentially pave the way for Sam Curran
to be a designated gamechanger, as opposed to the surprise package he proved to be in 2018. Both sides also have team compositions to figure out, and top-order batters who are either new, or returning, or searching for form. Throw that together with two of the best fast-bowling line-ups over a month-and-some of cricket, and we could have a series for the ages.
England LDLLL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
told ESPNcricinfo that Stokes is someone he looks to emulate
, and this series will bring him both the opportunities and some of the heft that comes with being Stokes. There is perhaps no better replacement in the England roster as they attempt to fill such a role - Curran is only 23 but has already built a reputation for making things happen, across formats, and in multiple roles. There will be eyes on him, and not just from English supporters; the wounds he inflicted on the Indian team in 2018, no doubt, continue to linger.
's last big moment as a Test opener came in the last Test of the 2018 series. Following that 149 at The Oval
, it has been a wobbly, uncertain career in red-ball cricket even as he has established himself as a limited-overs giant in Indian cricket. He was thought to be on this tour primarily as a middle-order option, but injuries to the main openers and good form in the warm-up games in Durham could mean Rahul comes back in as an opener in what will be his first game of competitive first-class cricket since the Ranji Trophy semi-final in March 2020 [he played the three-day tour game against County Select XI too].
England are almost certain to play four fast bowlers, and the batting talents of both Curran and Ollie Robinson mean they could be tempted to fit Jack Leach in there for a five-pronged attack. Ollie Pope could be a doubt after his injured quadriceps
suffered a reaction to training, putting Jonny Bairstow potentially in line for a return to Test cricket.
England (possible): 1 Rory Burns, 2 Dom Sibley, 3 Zak Crawley, 4 Joe Root (capt), 5 Ollie Pope/Jonny Bairstow, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Sam Curran, 8 Ollie Robinson, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Jack Leach, 11 James Anderson
More than anything else, India would be thinking about who slots in at No. 7. Ravindra Jadeja's rise as a reliable batter in the format, alongside his runs during the warm-up games, would make him frontrunner for No. 7. It's also difficult to imagine that India would drop R Ashwin in the sort of form he has been in, and so it's the same quandary for India as they had during the WTC final; two spinners or one spinner and Shardul Thakur? The former beefs up a thin lower order, the latter keeps India's frontline seamers fresher.
India (possible): 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 KL Rahul/Abhimanyu Easwaran, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Rishabh Pant (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Ishant Sharma, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
It has been cloudy, but warm, in the lead up to the first Test. Temperatures are expected to hover in the high teens. The pitches in the square have been green but have shown signs of getting drier and changing colour.
"I think it's a tricky one because there is a bit of grass on it but it's definitely changed colour in the last few days, it's starting to turn a bit brown as well. So I'm sure there will be a spinner in our 12 for tomorrow."
James Anderson assesses the pitch
"I don't really believe that some series matter more than the others, because then you're really picking and choosing what you want to do. And that's not being honest to the game in my opinion. So any match that you play for your country, and any series, is as important as any other series that you play around the world. And for us it's wanting difficult cricket, wanting tough cricket. And wanting to win in conditions which are not ours."
Virat Kohli says this series against England is no bigger or smaller than any other one