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So, this India-England series. What's that all about?

Our virtual cricket assistant reluctantly weighs in on this whole Test series business

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
Root cause: the only thing standing between India and victory?  •  Associated Press

Root cause: the only thing standing between India and victory?  •  Associated Press

Since people apparently like talking to machines more than each other these days, ESPNcricinfo has invested in state-of-the-art AI technology to bring you the world's first cricket virtual assistant. Named "Srini", in honour of much-loved former administrator and cement magnate N Srinivasan, our voice-activated chatbot can answer any query in less time than it takes the configure the DRS. Let's try it out now, and get the lowdown on England's tour of India.
Hey Srini! What's happening?
Good day. Would you like to set your preferences?
Yes, that's a good idea. I like Virat Kohli, Joe Root and Test matches.
You have selected: Virat Kohli, Ben Stokes and the IPL.
Hmmm, still seems a bit glitchy. Let's start with a simple one. Hey Srini, what's going on in the cricket?
Cricket is a game that exists in order to make money. It is played in a bubble and broadcast on television 365 days of the year. Would you like to discuss investment opportunities?
Umm, not right now. But there does seem to be a lot of it on, even during a pandemic. What are the big events I should look out for?
IPL 2020 concluded on November 10, 2020. It was won by Mumbai Indians. IPL 2021 auction is scheduled for February 18 - would you like to set a calendar reminder? IPL 2021 begins in two months and…
Okay, Srini, thanks. Lots of IPL, that's good. But isn't there a big tour about to happen? India's first home games in over a year?
Team India is scheduled to play the following fixtures: Friday, February 5, 2021 vs Team England, day one, 1st Paytm Test, Anthony de Mello Trophy, MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai; Saturday, February 6, 2021 vs Team England, day two, 1st Paytm Test, Anthony de Mello Trophy, MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai, Sunday, February 7, 2021 vs Team Engla…
Man, this could take a while
(Some time later) … Sunday, March 28, 2021 vs Team England, 3rd Paytm ODI, Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium, Pune. Would you like to hear more?
No, no, no, we're good. Wow, that's a long old tour. Definitely stick all those dates in my calendar. So who are some of the big names on the England team?
India vs England 2020-21, ones to watch: Sam Curran, allrounder, value INR 5.5 crore; Mark Wood, fast bowler, INR 1.5 crore…
Hang on, didn't I read that those two had been rested for the first part of the tour?
…Sam Billings, wicketkeeper-batsman, INR 1 crore
Wait a minute, he's not in the Test squad! Srini, are you just listing English CSK players…?
David Willey, allroun… (Srini blinks, then lights up yellow) Chennai Super Kings are the IPL franchise with the greatest fan following, indomitable serial champions and known for the "knowledgeable crowd" at their Chepauk home. Would you like to hear more about "Yellow Army"?
No, I'm not interested in the IPL right now. I want to hear about the Tests
(Srini's lights power down)
Hey Srini! Come on… Look, the tour starts in Chennai, right? I'm sure you've got something to say about that
(Grudgingly) Chepauk is one of the strongholds of India cricket, a ground where they have a win/loss ratio of 2.33. Since the year 2000, India have won five Tests in Chennai and drawn three. Their last defeat came in [file not found]. It is also the venue where India made their highest Test total - 759 for 7 declared, against England in 2016.
Oof, so England know what to expect then!
England's total of 477 in that game was the highest score in Test history to end in an innings defeat. Related YouTube content: Cricket's Most Epic Fails.
Bookmark that for later. So back-to-back Tests in Chennai, with India practically at full strength and riding a wave of emotion following the historic events at the Gabba a couple of weeks ago, eager to seal a 13th consecutive home series win and confirm their World Test Championship final spot. It really will be sink or swim for the tourists, won't it?
You might say they're likely to have the buoyancy of a bag of wet cement.
Burn! Nice one, Srini… But don't forget there's a day-night Test to come in Ahmedabad. Who knows what may happen there?
(Tetchily) Gurunath Meiyappan did not have any role within the team, he was just an enthusiast. Let the commission look into it. Mike Hussey doesn't know what he's talking about…
(Gives Srini a firm but affectionate thump) We really need to work out what keeps triggering that…
Sorry, did it happen again?
Don't worry, you're doing really well. Can you just sum up the challenge for England over the next few weeks as succinctly as possible?
No question they'll be up against it. Big first-innings runs are a must, but with an inexperienced top order much of the burden will fall on Joe Root. If he cracks, India's attack is likely to go through the rest quicker than those Chinese prawns that did for Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting in Chennai 28 years ago. There'll be long, hot days in the field, so stay patient and hang in there - particularly the spinners. India's batsmen will assume you can't turn a door knob, but that might just mean they leave it ajar. Hope that someone - Ben Stokes? Jofra Archer? - can produce a bit of KP magic (or even the Shaun Udal variety might do). Do your homework in advance, or it may well come back to bite you.
Homework, eh? Any recommended reading?
A quick check of the latest booksellers' charts tells me the No. 1 title in Sports > Indian cricket is Zen and the Art of Bowling All Day Long to Cheteshwar Pujara. According to my algorithms, that's going to be a hard one to dislodge.
This is all great advice. And at least England won't have to deal with fanatical Indian crowds, what with the whole bio-bubble thing…
Ah yes, about that. Tamil Nadu Cricket Association will be letting people in for the second Test.
Crumbs. Anything else?
Yeah, get a theme song. "Ring of Fire" works. "Highway to Hell" might turn out to be more appropriate.
Can't help noticing you've not mentioned Sam Curran…
He's definitely one to watch in IPL 2021.
Srini, show me an extended comedic device that has overstayed its welcome.

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick