And, so, here we go again! Another Test series on English soil is about to start and expectations of the Bharat Army are once again sky high as Virat Kohli's men aim to break the 14-year drought of having not won a Test series in the UK. Along with expectations, there is also a sense of anxiety among the Indian cricket tragics.
And, there are good reasons behind that anxiety. After all, no cricket nation has given Indian fans more pain than England in Test match series in the past decade.
The last time India won a Test rubber in England, Orkut was still the marquee social media platform, T20 cricket was still a bikini format, Virat Kohli was a chubby youngster plying his trade in domestic cricket and MS Dhoni still had long hair.
Not to forget, Donald Trump was still a decade away from becoming the US President.
The year was 2007. Indian team under the leadership of Rahul Dravid was still grappling with the after-effects of the disastrous World Cup campaign in the Caribbean.
Players were written off, effigies were burnt across India by heartbroken, enraged fans.
Cut to 2021, and while we can't exactly compare the disastrous 2007 WC campaign with the disappointment of a World Test Championship final- purely because India was the best team in the entire cycle and they happened to go down to a side that was superior to them in those conditions- the reactions from fans was largely the same.
The mode of outrage has changed. The burning of effigies has been replaced by relentless trolling on social media, especially Twitter.
People have been quick to shrugs off all the success that Indian cricket has achieved under Virat Kohli; the only question they have is "Where is the ICC Trophy?"
And, while most of the arguments that such people give are heavily influenced by their hatred for Virat Kohli, the crux of the matter holds true, unfortunately.
Barring the twin Test series wins in Australia, the Indian cricket team despite all its talent and bench strength has faltered to win when it matters most be it in overseas Tests or ODI/T20 world events.
India had a great opportunity to win the Test series in South Africa and England in 2018 but a combination of poor batting, inability to wipe out the opposition lower order, some bizarre team selections ensured that they ended up losing both rubbers.
India’s Test record in England since 2010-
India lost 1-4 in England, and, yes, the scoreline doesn't reflect how competitive the series was, the bottom line is no one remembers. All they remember is the eventual scoreline which read 4-1 in England's favour.
Team India’s record in Nottingham [Venue for the 1st Test]:
In that context, the Test series against England is crucial for Virat. Not that he cares, but if he can lead the team to a series win in England, then it will not only surely shut down his detractors for some time, he will become the first Indian skipper to lead his side to a Test series win in Australia and England.
Virat is the most successful Test captain in the history of Indian cricket. Under him, the Indian team went from No.7 in the world to the numero uno spot, which they maintained for the better part of next five years.
Virat Kohli’s record as Test skipper:
But, the series defeats in South Africa, England and New Zealand remain an asterisk on his otherwise stellar record.
The upcoming 6 months will see India locking horns with England and South Africa in their own backyard and that gives Virat and co another opportunity to right the wrongs of the past.
But, does India realistically stand a chance in England and, if the answer is yes, what are the things that they need to do to break the 14-year drought in England?
Will the openers finally stand up, please?
Death, taxes, and India being 2/30 have been a constant in England across the last three tours.
Across 28 innings during the last three tours, India has managed a 50-run opening stand on just three occasions- Lord's 2011, Edgbaston and Trent Bridge 2018.
And, things aren't looking well this time either. While Rohit Sharma has improved massively against the moving ball as he displayed during the WTC final, we still don't know who will open alongside him.
Shubman Gill is ruled out of the tour, Mayank Agarwal is unavailable for the 1st Test at least.
So, who will India pick as their second opener? Will they promote KL Rahul- who struggled in England last time and has been earmarked as a middle-order batter for this Test series- to the top of the order? Or will they promote Pujara or even Hanuma Vihari?
Whoever they choose to pick, the fact remains that Indian openers need to give their side a steady start to ensure the out of form middle-order isn't exposed early. And, Rohit Sharma will be extremely crucial in that regard.
The veteran opener needs to put a price on his wicket and ensure he doesn’t squander a start
Ah, the middle order!
The trio of Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane are the heartbeat of the Indian Test team.
But it is fair to say that the trio haven't been in the best of the form n the past 18-24 months.
Pujara hasn't scored a Test hundred since his 193 at the SCG in January 2019; Virat's last International ton came against Bangladesh in November 2019 and while Rahane scored a magnificent 100 at the MCG, his returns since then (barring the half-century he scored in Chennai against England) have been underwhelming.
The frustrating bit has been the fact that each of them has looked good on plenty of occasions but they have failed to kick on and convert that start into a big hundred.
If India has to end their 14-year-drought in England, the trio will have to bring out their A-game in testing conditions against a world class English attack.
Wipe out the tail, please!!!
One of the biggest differences between the two sides during the 2018 series was the contribution made by their lower order.
While nothing much can be done with regards to our tailenders, our bowlers can definitely ensure that England's lower-order doesn't score much either.
Dislodging the lower-order has been one of India's biggest chink since time immemorial. Just take the example of the last two years.
While in England, it was Sam Curran, against New Zealand, it was Kyle Jamieson, who did the damage in the end and give their side what turned out to be a decisive lead in the context of the game.
With conditions expected to favour the bowlers, batting collapses will ensue but what will make the difference, in the end, is the 30-40-50 crucial runs that the lower-order makes.
Ahead of the first Test, Ajinkya Rahane has said that
"Jasprit Bumrah, Shami, Ishant and Siraj batted in the Nets and can contribute 20-30 runs which is a very good sign."
While that looks extremely far-fetched looking at the way our tail has performed in the past 3 years, the fact of the matter is even if we ensure that England's lower-order doesn't score much, it will create a world of difference.
The last three tours of England for Team India and its fans have been full of pain, heartbreak and agony.
The defeat in the recent World Test Championship final is further exasperated that pain.
But, as we saw in 2007 or in the winter of 2020, and on several other occasions in the past, whenever the Indian team is pushed against the wall, they almost always come out fighting.
Can they do it again? Of course, they can. Will they do it? Only time will tell.