England in fact were the last team to beat India in India, winning the four-match Test series against the hosts 2-1 in 2012-13, while they lost the five-match series 0-4 during their last visit to India in 2016.
However, no matter how high on confidence a team might be, beating India in India is easier said than done. A battered and bruised India recently fought back hard, after the opening Test catastrophe in Adelaide, to rewrite history by defeating Australia 2-1 on their home soil, and eventually winning the four-match Test series. That too without the services of their premier batsman and skipper Virat Kohli, who was on paternity leave after the first Test against the Aussies.
With a hungry Kohli back in the mix, the English will be aware that they have their task cut out. Former England spinner Graeme Swann recently said that a series win in India this time will be bigger for the English than winning the Ashes.
Here we look at the top seven players from the visiting side (in no particular order) who can pose a big threat to the charged up and rejuvenated Indian side, who will have the services of players like Virat, Ishant Sharma and Hardik Pandya again:
Joe Root (Matches: 99, Runs: 8249, Average: 49.39, 100s: 19, 50s: 49)
England skipper Joe Root, who will become the 15th England cricketer to play 100 Test matches when he takes the field at the MA Chidambaram Stadium on February 5, will be looking to make his milestone match memorable after a great start on their sub-continent tour.
Root showed great ability against the spinners and batted for long periods of time in the just-concluded Test series in Sri Lanka, scoring 426 runs at an average of 106.5 across two Tests.
His knocks included a double century (228) and a score of 186. Root seems to have found his mojo again. He had just one century in 17 Test matches, before the Sri Lanka tour, since the start of the English summer in 2019. The series in the Emerald Isles not only helped Root regain his lost form, but also made him a very big potential threat against the Indian bowling attack.
The prized wicket of Root will certainly be the main aim of Indian bowlers in the upcoming series. Root, who led from the front against the Lankans, termed India as ‘the best team of the world in their own conditions’ ahead of the crucial four-match Test series, adding that they are eagerly looking forward to the series against India.
Root will know that he will have to be at his best as captain and key batsman in the four Tests which will be played in Chennai and Ahmedabad. Root has played a total of 6 Tests against India in India far, scoring 584 runs, which included 1 century and 5 half centuries, at an average of 53.09 with a highest score of 124.
Ben Stokes (Matches: 67, Runs: 4428, Average: 37.84, 100s: 10, 50s: 22; Wickets: 158)
The return of talismanic all-rounder Ben Stokes after being rested for the Sri Lanka tour is obviously a great boost for the England team. His overall record in Asia is not that bad as he has a batting average 29.92 combined with an excellent 26.48 with the ball from 13 Tests.
But Stokes is not a player whom you can judge on the basis of just his stats though. He is the kind of player who comes up with an uncanny knock at an important juncture of the match or chips in with crucial wickets and a few stunning catches or run-outs here and there, turning the match on its head, in his team’s favour. That’s what makes him a unique player.
It will be imperative for Indian bowlers to not allow Stokes to score quickly. His bowling abilities give the team management an option of having an extra batsman in the playing eleven.
Stokes has scored 345 runs at an average of 38.33 in 5 Tests played against India in India till now. He has scored a century and a fifty. On the bowling front, Stokes 8 wickets on Indian soil under his belt, with best figures of 5/73 in an innings – his lone five-wicket haul against the hosts.
Jofra Archer (Matches: 11, Wickets: 38, Best: 6/45, 5 wicket hauls: 3)
He is only 11 Tests matches old, but right-arm pacer Jofra Archer has everything it takes to be a huge x-factor player for the English on this tour. He is the fastest of the England pacers and despite the Indian tracks not being the fastest or liveliest, Archer can trouble the Indian batsmen.
The 25 year old who was born in Barbados and played u-19 cricket for the West Indies is yet to play a Test against India, be it at home or away. Archer was rested for the Sri Lanka tour as per ECB’s workload management and rotation system, so he will be raring to go full steam at the Indian batsmen.
However, he has his apprehensions too, as he had played IPL in India before but when it comes to red ball cricket he has no experience as to how to work on these Indian pitches which make pacers work hard for their wickets.
“I’ve played lots of Indian Premier League but nothing in terms of first-class cricket, so the challenges of bowling with a red ball will become clearer,” Archer said ahead of the start of the series. Archer last played a Test for England against Pakistan in August 2019 and from then he has been playing the shorter formats of the game.
So it could be quite a challenge for him to adapt to the tough conditions of five-day cricket that too against a formidable opposition like India in their own den.
But whatever Archer has displayed so far in international cricket has shown that he is a quality pacer, with raw pace. In the 11 Tests he has played so far he has taken 38 wickets with 3 five-wicket hauls.
Stuart Broad (Matches: 144, Wickets: 517, Best: 8/15, 5 wicket hauls: 18)
Seasoned fast bowler Stuart Broad, who believes India’s confidence will be “sky high” following their remarkable series win in Australia, will leave no stone unturned to put his best foot forward against the formidable Indian batting line-up.
Broad doesn’t want England players to build India up in their “minds” in the upcoming four-Test series and think that the hosts are impregnable.
A veteran of 144 Tests recently praised India skipper Virat Kohli, terming him one of the “best” batsmen he has ever seen. The 34-year-old Broad will have to bank on all his experience on the docile Indian pitches to put England in a dominating position.
India need to win the four-match Test series against England with a 2-0 margin to seal a spot in the World Test Championship final. If they lose one Test against England though, they will need to win three matches.
England, on the other hand, need to beat India by a margin of at least 3-0. Even a 2-2 drawn series will not be enough for England to finish among the top two in the World Test Championship final race.
Broad has represented England in 6 matches against India in India and claimed 10 wickets so far with 4/33 being his best figures in an innings. Broad is currently England’s second highest Test wicket taker, behind James Anderson and is seventh on the overall all time list, with 517 wickets in 144 Tests.
James Anderson (Matches: 157, Wickets: 606, Best: 7/42, 5 wicket hauls: 30)
Lanky English pacer James Anderson – the most experienced amongst all the Englishmen in the current squad and England’s all time highest Test wicket taker – will be the man to watch out for in the upcoming series.
Anderson is on a high after picking 6/40 on a tough Galle pitch against Sri Lanka in the first innings of the second Test. The 38-year-old veteran, who also completed his 30th five-wicket haul in the second Test in Galle, was charging in despite knowing that the pitch might have hardly anything for him on offer.
But he displayed great temperament, which is needed at this level, and exhibited his experience to deliver the results which changed the course of the match later on.
Anderson became the first fast bowler to take 600 Test wickets when he dismissed Pakistan’s captain Azhar Ali last August at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton.
Only Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne and Anil Kumble had previously gone past the 600-wicket mark in the longest format of the game, making Anderson just the fourth player with 600 or more Test scalps.
He is currently fourth on the all time list with 606 wickets in 157 Tests. Anderson has played a total of 10 Tests in India and picked up 26 wickets so far with the best figure of 4/40 in an innings.
Moeen Ali (Matches: 60, Wickets: 181, Best: 6/53, 5 wicket hauls: 5)
Off-spinner Moeen Ali is very eager to make his return to the cricket field after a forced break due to coronavirus which ruled him out of the two-Test series in Sri Lanka.
Moeen, who took a break from Test cricket after being dropped during the 2019 Ashes series against Australia, spent almost two weeks in isolation after testing positive for the virus on arrival in Sri Lanka.
Moeen last played a Test for England against Australia in August 2019. But since the Indian pitches will offer good assistance to the spinners, he doesn’t want to lose the opportunity of being England’s most experienced spinner in the squad.
He has also troubled Indian batsmen to a great extent in the past. “I have no match practice or anything but when we get out of here I’ll train as hard as I can, spend time on my feet and try to be ready,” said Moeen recently.
The 33 year old all-rounder has 2782 Test runs under his belt, with five centuries. He has also taken 181 wickets in the 60 Tests he has played so far.
Moeen has played just 5 Tests in India, which was during the last tour of India and taken 10 wickets, with best figures of 3/98 in an innings.
Dom Bess (Matches: 12, Wickets: 31, Best: 5/30, Economy: 2.80)
Rising English star Dom Bess, who finished with career-best figures of 5-30 on the opening day of the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle, has set his eyes on the Indian series after getting a taste of success in subcontinental conditions on the Lankan tour.
The 23-year-old, who got the chance to play in the absence of regular off spinner Moeen Ali, grabbed the opportunity with both hands, picking up a total of 12 wickets in two Tests, which also included a 4/49 in the second innings of the second Test at Galle.
The English team management might give Bess an extended run against India in place of Moeen Ali as the latter has just revived from the coronavirus and has no match experience under his belt for quite some time.
The young spinner has also rightfully claimed a place in the England XI and is also match fit as compared to his senior partner.