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Leicestershire warm-up gives Indians a chance to regain red-ball intensity

While the likes of Kohli and Jadeja are returning after longish breaks, Gill and Pujara will look to push their case for selection at Edgbaston

Nagraj Gollapudi
The high-decibel welcome that usually greets them on England tours is missing, but the Indians will look past that when they begin their four-day practice match in Leicester on Thursday, aiming to build up intensity ahead of the Edgbaston Test next week. The warm-up game will be a 13-a-side, non-first-class contest, but it is the only opportunity for Rohit Sharma's team to prepare for the Birmingham Test, which their head coach Rahul Dravid has termed significant with World Test Championship points at stake.
To ensure that all members of India's touring party get adequate match practice ahead of the Test match, four of them - Cheteshwar Pujara, Rishabh Pant, Jasprit Bumrah and Prasidh Krishna - will turn out for Leicestershire.
The Test is the rescheduled fifth match of the 2021 Pataudi Trophy. It was originally scheduled to be played at Old Trafford last September, but was postponed indefinitely following a Covid-19 scare, and eventually rescheduled for the 2022 summer. After four Tests, India lead the series 2-1, and have the opportunity to win their first Test series in England since 2007, when Dravid was their captain.
Outlining the challenge confronting the Indians this summer, Dravid said recently that England were a "bit different" to the team they had in 2021, when they were "on the back foot". What Dravid meant by different was the fearless show England put on in the first two Tests of their home series against New Zealand, under the new captain-coach combination of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum.
India have not played a Test match since March, when they dominated Sri Lanka at home with a 2-0 series win. Barring Pujara and Shubman Gill, none of the Indian players have played any red-ball cricket since, with the majority of the rest featuring in IPL 2022 followed by the home T20I series against South Africa. The Leicester tour match will also be the first time several key players who are likely to make the first XI at Edgbaston, including Rohit, Virat Kohli, Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Ravindra Jadeja and Shardul Thakur, will be playing since the IPL.
While the Indian selectors picked a 17-member Test squad in May, there will only be 15 Indians in the tour match. The two absentees are offspinner R Ashwin, who is recovering at home in Chennai after testing positive for Covid-19 recently, and opener KL Rahul, who was meant to lead India in the South Africa T20Is but had to pull out of the series with a groin injury. The BCCI has not yet sent any medical update on both Ashwin and Rahul.
Also not yet known is the identity of Rohit's deputy, with Rahul originally named vice-captain for the England Tests. Rahul was a key batter for India last year when he and Rohit helped India lay a solid opening platform. Incidentally, Rahul was originally a back-up middle-order batter on last year's tour before injuries to Gill and Mayank Agarwal gave him an opportunity in his original role. Rahul was the third-highest run-getter in the first four Tests, behind Joe Root and Rohit.
The importance of a tour match can be gauged from Rahul's success in the warm-up game last year, where he scored a century against a County Select XI. This week, Gill will similarly aim to utilise the opportunity to push his case to open alongside Rohit. Gill last played a Test match in December 2021, in the home series against New Zealand. Injuries ruled him out of the South Africa tour and the Sri Lanka home Tests that followed.
The match is also significant for the senior batting pair of Pujara and Kohli for different reasons. Pujara was dropped for the Sri Lanka series but, to borrow Dravid's words, the Saurashtra batter "banged open" the selection door to make a comeback with his stellar form for Sussex in Division 2 of the County Championship earlier this summer. Pujara scored 720 runs in eight innings at an average of 120.00, with four hundreds including two double-tons. While the selectors and the Indian team management are keen to provide exposure to young batters, Pujara has kept himself relevant and pushed his case on the basis of both runs and his immense experience at No. 3.
As for Kohli, the tour match, followed by the Test, give him another opportunity to overcome a lengthy struggle for consistency. He has gone through a century drought in international cricket that has now stretched past 100 games across the three formats, including IPL. During the league, Kohli had emphasised the importance of taking breaks from the game to keep himself refreshed in the long term. Back on the field after being rested from the South Africa T20Is, Kohli will once again be hungry to impose himself on bowlers, an element of his batting that hasn't always been in evidence over recent months.
Jadeja, too, will be looking for a positive return to the field after a rib injury prematurely ended what had been a difficult IPL season. Appointed captain of Chennai Super Kings on the eve of the season, he stood down from the role halfway through the season, with his team's results mirroring his own poor form with bat and ball. Jadeja, though, remains a vital cog for India as the spinning allrounder, a role he has made his own in overseas Tests for the last few years - he played all four Tests in England last year, his solidity with the bat keeping out R Ashwin in the race to be the lone spinner alongside four quicks.
One difference between last year and now is that India no longer have to live in a biosecure bubble, which both players and coaches had pointed to as a major challenge, and one with potential repercussions on performance.
Match timings: 1st Session: 10:30am-12:30pm; 2nd Session: 1:10pm-3:10pm; 3rd Session: 3:30pm-5:30pm
Where to watch: On Foxes TV, Leicestershire's official YouTube channel
The story has been updated following confirmation from Leicestershire that the match will be a 13-a-side game, with four Indian players featuring for the opposition.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo