It's back, you know. Not Test cricket, per se, but rather that cloying, nagging sense of unease that tends to accompany the format's big days out in this most attention-deficient of eras.

Polish your shoes, brush your hair, smile for the cameras… best foot forward and all that. We've got five Tests coming up in which to prove once and for all that long-form cricket is the best form.

Rather like helicopter parents, tiresomely insisting to the class teacher that Little Johnny is actually a frustrated genius who just needs to be given room to express himself, Test cricket's cheerleaders - particularly those from England - can at times be a little bit delusional.

No, madam, Little Johnny is not a genius. Right at this moment in time, Little Johnny is, at best, an averagely capable student, with some clear ability in certain disciplines, but who is prone to winging it outrageously in others. And, frankly, if he doesn't knuckle down soon and stop wasting his time trying to get in with the cool kids, he's destined for a lifetime of flipping burgers.

It's hardly original to declare that Test cricket is in crisis - but the format has never felt so threatened by the country that claims to love it best. The ECB's plans for 2020 and beyond have been dominating the news agenda in the build-up to the biggest series in England since the 2015 Ashes, and it's been a Brexit-lite embarrassment of blue-sky brainfarts - ten-ball overs! 15 players a side! - pumped into the ether with no attempt to show any working, and no consideration to the sizeable chunk of the population who believe, with no little justification, that a national leap in the dark is no way to address a few existential doubts.

Chuck in a furore about Adil Rashid's bypassing of the County Championship to earn his Test recall, and stir in some grave concerns about the pre-sale of tickets for the four Tests outside of Lord's, and it's clear that the backdrop for India's visit - not to mention the subcontinental heat - is as unfamiliar as we've perhaps ever known it.

But that's not to say that England's recent efforts in Test cricket deserve any better. A generous assessment might be that a slippage in Test standards is a fair price to pay to reinvigorate the team's white-ball fortunes ahead of what promises to be a transformative home World Cup. A more damning assessment would be that they deserve to be taught a lesson by an India side that, under Virat Kohli, could hardly be more driven to prove their credentials away from home.

The warning signs of England's Test flunking have been staring us all in the face for several years now. After a 1-1 draw against Pakistan in May that featured, at Lord's, perhaps one of the most spineless home defeats in living memory, the team is barely clinging on to fifth spot in the ICC rankings, an extraordinary feat of underachievement given the ECB's resources and their (previously) grandiloquent posturing about the format's importance.

A generous assessment might be that a slippage in Test standards is a fair price to pay to reinvigorate England's white-ball fortunes ahead of what promises to be a transformative home World Cup. A more damning assessment would be that they deserve to be taught a lesson

Away from home, the team has more or less given up pretending it can compete - they've picked up a miserable 17 defeats and just four wins in their last 30 overseas Tests, dating back to 2013, a ratio that makes their away record in the 1990s, ostensibly English cricket's most desperate era, look almost rosy - M50 W9 L23 D18. Even a 4-0 thumping in last winter's Ashes failed to rouse the team from its torpor, perhaps because it was a 20% improvement on their record in Australia four years earlier.

A quick glance at England's recent home series' record might imply that everything is still just about under control. They haven't lost a series at home since 2014, when Sri Lanka stunned them at Headingley to swipe the spoils in a two-Test rubber, while Australia's failure to win in England since 2001 is another one-eyed indicator of apparent rude health - not dissimilar to the fig leaf that preserved England's modesty in the 1980s.

But scratch beneath the surface of those stats and a much more textured picture emerges. In an era when overseas wins have apparently been at a premium, England have not merely lost but been trounced by all-comers at key moments of almost every home series since the 2013 Ashes - including, but not exclusively: by 199 runs against New Zealand in 2015, by 405 runs against Australia the same summer. By ten wickets against Pakistan in 2016; by 340 runs against South Africa last year. They were even powerless to prevent a previously supine West Indies from chasing 322 on an extraordinary final day at Headingley last August.

It is, therefore, not really a matter for debate that England are due an absolute hiding at some stage of the coming six weeks against the world's No. 1 Test team. The only question is whether they will manage to get their act together sufficiently in between whiles to salvage the series - as, to be fair, they have often managed in recent seasons with a team, paradoxically, that contains arguably five or six of the finest individuals ever to have played Test cricket for their country.

And yet, for the greater good of the game, it might be preferable if England didn't get away with blagging it for yet another summer. After all, the missing ingredient for Test cricket in recent seasons has been jeopardy. The old-fashioned notion of ebb and flow has given way to tsunami and counter-tsunami - if a team gets on top early in a match, it's incredibly rare that they'll meet much (if any) resistance. England's one defining characteristic in recent times has been the ability, at home at least, not to let those frequent beatings get them down.

Kohli, you suspect, is in the mood to buck that particular trend at least. Much has been made of his failure in England four years ago - and particularly against James Anderson - but that in itself is a glorious plotline that gives context and spice to the series. Whatever occurs in the coming weeks, there's no way that India will be as passive as they proved to be in the key moments of the 2011 and 2014 series under MS Dhoni. And if that cannot rouse England to a world-class response, then sympathy deserves to be in short supply.

Test cricket still matters because of what it represents - you only need to look at the astonishing global reaction to the ball-tampering scandal to know deeply it resonates in spite of its recent neglect. This series could yet be The One - the five-set Grand Slam epic that reaffirms the status of the greatest form of sporting combat ever devised. But failing that, a damn good thrashing might be the second-best outcome for an England team, and administration, that needs to stop shirking.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @miller_cricket