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The challenge facing a depleted Indian batting unit at Edgbaston




India and England will complete their unfinished 2021 Test series this week at Edgbaston. India is leading the series 2-1 after their two wins in London and England’s win in Headingley.

The deciding fifth Test has been a year in the making and the circumstances could not be more different.

What a difference a year makes. Last year England struggled to find Test-quality batters to give company to the great Joe Root. This year, under a new captain and coach, English batting is brimming with confidence.

Last year the English team chickened out of a fourth-innings chase against the Kiwis and played for a draw. This year they chased three 250-plus scores in the fourth innings and wiped the Kiwis clean.

England faced the same teams, New Zealand and India, during the summer of 2021. New Zealand beat them 1-0 and India led them 2-1 during the Test series. However, England has turned the tables on the Kiwis, beating them 3-0 in 2022. England comes into the Edgbaston Test with their confidence sky-high.

What will they do to the Indians in the lone Test? Will the English maul the visitors at Edgbaston?

India’s batting unit is brimming with uncertainty. India is already depleted by the loss of KL Rahul, the in-form batter from last year. Adding to this loss of Rahul is the uncertainty over Rohit Sharma’s participation in the Test due to COVID. Rohit and Rahul were the form batters in the 2021 series. If Rohit cannot start the Test, India will be pushed onto the back foot straight away.

India's Rohit Sharma bats during day three

(Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

Virat Kohli looked in good touch during the practice game against Leicestershire. If Rohit misses out, India will look up to Virat to rise to the occasion and lead the batting unit, as he did in the 2018 series. Kohli comes into this series having not scored a century for about three years.

Cheteshwar Pujara, who looks likely to start the Test, will need to bring his recent county cricket experience and add stability to the top order. He needs to score big runs in the first innings, unlike his disappointing returns from the 2021 series. Pujara, like Virat, hasn’t scored a Test century for a couple of years.

The other batters, like Shubman Gill, Mayank Agarwal, Hanuma Vihari and Shreyas Iyer, are relatively untested in English conditions. That leaves India looking up to Rishabh Pant to do his magic in Edgbaston. In Leicester’s practice game Pant looked as brilliant as ever, toying with bowlers like Mohammed Shami.

The above commentary on India’s batting does not paint a pretty picture, especially when the English team is firing on all cylinders.

While India’s batting looks weak, their bowling looks pristine. Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, and Ravichandran Ashwin looked good in the practice game. India will hope that Mohammed Siraj will bowl better in the Edgbaston Test than he did during the practice game. This bowling unit, a tried and tested one, is India’s ace for the Test. If this unit fails to deliver, India does not have a chance of winning.

Among the gloom, the silver lining for the India team is the weather in England. The summer of 2022 seems to be dry and reasonably warm. The pitches England and New Zealand played during their series were good for batting. If these dry conditions remain as predicted, India will count itself lucky. The Indian batting unit, bereft of confidence, will enjoy the easier conditions.

Those same drier conditions will aid India’s bowling unit as well. As we saw in the Oval test last year, Indian bowlers are better skilled than the Kiwis in using the drier pitch to get the English batters out. I expect Bumrah, Shami and Siraj to be far more dangerous for Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow than Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner.

The likely Indian XI for the Edgbaston Test

Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Hanuma Vihari, Rishab Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah

If Rohit Sharma misses out, I expect Hanuma Vihari to open and Shreyas Iyer to take his place in the middle order. I don’t expect the team to play Mayank Agarwal in Rohit’s place.

If the Edgbaston pitch is flat, the Indian team might play Ravichandran Ashwin instead of Shardul Thakur. However, I would resist that temptation and play Shardul. Shardul can pick wickets in all the conditions when compared to Ashwin. Considering the fickle nature of the English weather, India should guard against ending up with two spinners under cloudy conditions (remember Lord’s 2018).





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