An India – England test series has always been a fascinating contest. Within the series and outside the series there have always been many plots and sub-plots.  Particularly, if the series is in India, it always appears that the English team is as concerned with factors outside the game as there are with the actual contest. What are the venues? Will the pitches turn? Who are the spinners? Who are the umpires? Will DRS be applicable? These and many more thoughts usually accompany the English team when they arrive in India.

To be fair to them they have also usually been accompanied by some extra ordinary circumstances. In 1984, within days of the English team arriving in India, the then prime minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi was shot dead  which led the English team to make a hasty retreat to Sri Lanka. In 1993, the English team arrived in India a month after the demolition of the Babri Mosque during a time when communal riots were raging across the country.

In 2000, the English team arrived month after September 11 attacks in the United States when the sub-continent was in the middle of a conflict. In 2008, the Mumbai attacks took place in the middle of the one day series and England had to come back to play the test matches in a very tense environment. No wonder the English always appear to be focused on factors outside the game.

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Fortunately for the English (and for everybody else), the circumstances presently in the country are relatively calmer. There is also a calmness currently associated with the Virat Kohli led Indian team. The team is ranked number one in the world in test cricket and the way the Indian team demolished the Kiwis and the way the English capitulated to spin in Bangladesh has made many people already conclude that the India is going to triumph comprehensively. Kohli, Ashwin, Jadeja and company are going to make merry while Cook and company will struggle is a prediction shared by many.

Unquestionably, India are favorites. The conditions suit them and they are in prime form. But write the English off at your own peril. In 1984 England arrived in India after receiving a pasting from the West Indies and were wiped out in the first test in Mumbai. They went on to win the series 2-1. In 2012 , Pragyan Ojha and Cheteshwar Pujara inspired India to  a win at Ahmedabad but Kevin Pitersen’s brilliance and Alastair Cook’s defiance ensured a memorable 2-1 victory for England. England may be underdogs but they are more than likely to ruffle the odd feather and cause an upset.

Like David Gower in 1984 and like he had himself done in 2012, the Captain, Alastair Cook, will have to play an important role if England have to compete in this series. For all the criticism that he has faced, Cook has proven to be an outstanding leader for England. He is one of England’s greatest batsmen and his batting against India and its spinners has always been assured. On the last tour he constructed three stunning hundreds at Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Kolkata. For England to have any impact in the series, Cook will have to have a good run. England will also depend heavily on Joe Root.

Root made his debut at Nagpur the last time England toured India and since then he has emerged as one of the leading batsman of the world. He is an uncomplicated batsman, believing in the age old methodology of seeing the ball and hitting the ball. He showed great skills against the spinners at Nagpur in 2012 and since then he has emerged as a fantastic player of spin bowling- his twinkling feet often dismantling the lengths of spin bowlers. Nothing will faze Root and he is bound to have a very good tour.

If only England had Kevin Pietersen to support Cook and Root. Twice on the last two tours, at Mohali in 2008 and at Mumbai in 2012, KP produced two master pieces.  His innings in Mumbai in 2012 was perhaps the finest innings played by a visiting batsman in India. He would have given the x-factor, the fear element to the English batting line up. Unfortunately KP is at Perth, doing broadcasting work for Channel 9 when he should be at Rajkot.

In KP’s absence the middle order looks thin. Ben Stokes can provide the unpredictability though he has not yet been tested in the sub-continent. Jos Butler is likely to play as a specialist batsman and it will be interesting to see how he copes up against the spinners. Stuart Broad will lead the bowling attack and the sooner James Anderson gets fit the better that is for England.  Inexperience in the spin bowling department will hurt England. England though will fight hard and play with spirit. They will be patient and try to exploit any weakness that India shows.

It promises to be a fascinating series and I do not think for a moment that it will be as one sided as some people making us believe. India is in a good space but complacency can be their biggest enemy. With Kumble and Kohli at the helm India is likely to be focused. All the money should be on India but do not be surprised if England upset the applecart.