The England tour so far has had a mixed reaction for the Indian side with the Men in Blue blazing their way through the T20I series to lose to the hosts the ODI series 2-1. Thus, the test series starting on 1st August will be decisive in terms of both measuring the capability of the Indian side which has won 10 out of 11 test series since July 2015 under the captaincy of Virat Kohli, as well as creating history wherein if the Indian side wins, it will be their first series win in England since 2007.

The loss of the series against South Africa earlier this year was more a reflection of poor selection of the team than collective or individual performances. In such a circumstance the onus falls heavily on team selection and listed below are the 5 problems that plague the Indian test team:

Six batsmen or 5 bowlers: As a captain who has an approach that is significantly more aggressive, Virat Kohli has had trouble deciding upon the ideal permutation and combination of the team in the longest format. His ideal line-up is that of five pure batsmen, one wicket-keeper and five bowlers. However, this set-up would be fairly ineffective against the English side since Indian batsmen have struggled against the quality swing bowling in the prior test series as well. The format of having 6 batsmen in the playing 11 would ensure that the three natural openers Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul and Murali Vijay have the chance to give India a solid start. This format would also allow added security in the form of an additional batsman in the middle order and Karun Nair is the most viable option. 

However, this would be a highly controversial move as the emergence of Hardik Pandya as a pace bowling all rounder and the belief of the selectors in him would mean that he has a spot in the team but going with 6 batsmen would either he would be dropped or he would be a part of the 4-bowler squad either of which is a highly unlikely step.

The opening confusion: The rise of KL Rahul has put him in competition with veterans Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay. While a circumstance of choice had earlier not arisen due to injuries plaguing the trio, in this England series all three are fit and thus the arrangement of openers is in a fix. While Vijay has the all vital experience of performing with the team and performing well in foreign games, his knock of hundred against England in the last tour goes a long way to cement his place in the team; Dhawan on the other hand is a player who is in form and his explosive form of batting has earned him and the team many accolades. Rahul is up and coming and his performance in the South Africa series impressed everyone! Rahul’s knock of hundred against Australia proved that he too has potential and promise.

Stumped at the wickets: The retirement of MSD from the longest format in 2014 left the stumps of Indian side unguarded both literally and metaphorically! While Wriddhiman Saha has kept guard on the stumps all this time, his injury in this series has brought the selectors to crossroads. The choice is between Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant. While DK is experienced and has been a member of the squad in South Africa and Afghanistan with an average of 54.15 in his previous full Ranji Trophy season in 2016-17; his prior experience of the England tour in 2007 will be pivotal. On the other hand, the young Rishabh Pant has been in the eyes of the selectors since his stellar performances in both Ranji Trophy and the IPL; along with this, the numbers plead his case with an excellent average of 54.16 at a strike rate of 98.54.

The spinning conundrum: The spinning duo of Ashwin- Jadeja have been underperforming for quite some time now and leakage of runs is too heavy to be ignored. Together the duo has only picked up a dismal haul of 5 wickets in 30 innings outside the subcontinent. While Ashwin redeemed himself somewhat in the South Africa series by picking up 4 wickets in the second test, Jadeja’s performance is a cause for concern. The emergence of a spin wizard in Kuldeep Yadav is another threat to the duo. His four-wicket haul in the test series against Australia or his performance in the ongoing series is a testimony to his superior skills. It would be interesting to see some breath of fresh air in the staleness of Indian spin attack.

‘Pace’d out: India among its other worries, has its biggest Waterloo in the pace bowling department. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah are injured and thus ruled out in spite of being the best attackers of pace bowling. While this does give Hardik Pandya, Umesh Yadav, Shardul Thakur, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami as potential options, there are many doubts around these players. Pandya on the basis of selectors faith in him may make it to the first test squad but his feature in subsequent matches is unsure along with the rest of the makeup of the pace department. Ishant Sharma provided India with a test victory in England in 2014 which was the only one over a decade. However, the veteran bowler’s biggest nightmare has been his inconsistency which he has been unable to overcome. Yadav again has a propensity towards being inconsistent even while his pace could create problems for the opposing team. The factor working against Shami would be that he hasn’t played a single first- class match since 2017 and he could prove to be a risky choice. However, a gamble on Thakur who hasn’t played first-class test yet, could be taken since he has showed promise in first-class cricket.