Kohli's India takes on in-form England in closed-doors first Test

After its trail-blazing triumph in Australia, India has the momentum in its favour. But England could provide a tough challenge having demolished Sri Lanka 2-0 in a just-concluded Test series.

India's batting is back at full strength with skipper and mainstay Virat Kohli returning to action.   -  BCCI

Amid fading light and pin-drop silence, Glenn McGrath steamed in, Harbhajan Singh settled in his stance, and the Aussie’s thunderbolt was squeezed for runs to settle the humdinger of a decider at Chepauk, 2001. You can still hear the crowd’s roar. Sadly, there will be no spectators for the India-England first Test that gets underway in Chennai on Friday.

After its trail-blazing triumph in Australia, India has the momentum in its favour. Now, back at full strength with skipper and batting mainstay Virat Kohli and the premier pace pair of Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah returning, India will fancy its chances.

There is still some grass left on the surface and the pitch for the first Test should be sporting in nature with healthy bounce, enabling strokeplay, assisting the pacemen and providing help to the spinners as the match progresses.

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After its 2-0 series triumph on spinner-friendly tracks in Sri Lanka achieved without the influential Ben Stokes and the speedy Jofra Archer, England could provide a tough challenge to a host that normally demolishes opponents at home.


Spin attack

India’s formidable batting line-up will be predictable. And the explosive Rishabh Pant will play as wicket-keeper batsman ending speculation about being fielded as a specialist bat.     

India is likely to play three spinners, off-spinning all-rounders R. Ashwin, Washington Sundar and either Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav or left-arm spinner Axar Patel.

Axar will give the attack control and England did struggle against left-arm spin in Sri Lanka. If the Englishmen are not able to pick him, wrist spinner Kuldeep can inflict some damage.

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After his heroic display in Australia, where he batted under excruciating pressure with the grace and flow of a natural left-hander and bowled with accuracy and subtle variations, young Washington is expected to keep his place.

And the pace pack of Ishant and Bumrah, in his first Test at home, should torment the Englishmen. Old warhorse Ishant will be playing his 98th Test and is only three short of 300 Test scalps.

As India prepares to meet England in Chennai, several questions about the Indian domestic circuit remain shrouded in a cloud of doubt. Our correspondents Vijay Lokapally, Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyyan and Shayan Acharya explore some of these avenues in this week's episode.


Root's 100th

Talking about numbers, the Test will be momentous for English skipper Joe Root. It will be his 100th. With match-winning monuments - 228 and 186 - behind him in Sri Lanka, Root will be the key man in the England middle-order. His duel with Ashwin will be a battle within the larger game and Root is expected to use his feet and also employ the sweep and the reverse sweep.

England is not short of match winners. Among them will be skilful all-rounder Stokes with huge reserves of mental strength. And the fleet-footed Jos Buttler will be the X-factor in the line-up. Zak Crawley has been ruled out of first two Tests with a wrist sprain. Crawley, who was expected to bat at No. 3, slipped outside the dressing room on Tuesday.

England's pace attack with the wily James Anderson, the lanky Stuart Broad and the hostile Archer - two of the three should play - has a fair amount of venom. And the two spinners, off-spinner Dom Bess and left-armer Jack Leach did team up well in Sri Lanka.

Like the silent era movies, this will be a “silent’ Test. Oh!, for the roar of the crowd!    

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