By Yajurvindra Singh
The most significant and important reason of the India-England four-match Test series will be for one of the sides to ensure they qualify for the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) final. Unfortunately, this wonderful initiative by the International Cricket Council (ICC) went completely into a tail spin because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The simple point calculation system went totally awry because the schedule could not be met and a simpler formula of percentages came into play.
The battle for a place in the final is between the four top teams that at present rule the world of cricket — India, England, New Zealand, and Australia. New Zealand have already qualified as their nearest rival Australia opted out of the tour to South Africa, leaving India a favourable chance to qualify — if they beat England convincingly at home.
One does understand that the loneliness of the bio-secure bubble and the concern of catching the dreaded virus has had a major mental effect on a cricketer. This has been relayed by some of them through personal interviews. However, for countries not to play their best XIs at a time when qualifying for the WTC final is at stake is simply not acceptable.
This truly shows that the inaugural WTC has no significant value among the cricket playing countries. Test cricket is not as lucrative a commercial venture as the limited-overs version of the game, but to give it a step brotherly treatment does not augur well. The recently completed India-Australia Test series showed how absorbing, challenging, and competitive Test cricket can be, and the skills, guts, and patience it requires to do well.
The young enthusiastic Indian and the ardent followers finally did get to understand and enjoy the conventional form of the game. The series against England will be extensively followed as Indian fans have finally grown to enjoy Test cricket. However, the importance of what it means to be the ultimate cricket champion team needs to be far more advertised and talked about in order to give Test cricket that pride of place. The ICC has to play a much greater role in projecting their newly structured Test championship.
The first Test match between India and England in Chennai, beginning on Friday, has finally brought cricket back to India after the Covid-19 pandemic. The chance of qualifying to play the WTC final in June in England for both the sides will provide the series that additional luster and interest.
England have to beat India convincingly to qualify whereas India are far better placed to do so. This is why one is surprised that England have — and are planning to — rested some of their frontline performers during this important series. This also shows how unconcerned England are as regards the WTC final which will be played in their own backyard.
An India-England series has always been a highlight for fans of both countries. India’s Test cricket started in 1932 against England, and visits by teams touring India since 1880s have been the historical milestones that have been etched in Indian cricket.
India, after their terrific win against Australia, look to be the favourites, especially at home. One cannot underestimate this England side, especially after their convincing away win against Sri Lanka recently. India, definitely have a stronger batting line-up but England boast of a world class pace attack. A side that has James Anderson, Stuart Broad, the dreaded Jofra Archer, and Ben Stokes cannot be taken lightly.
England have also equipped themselves with three finger spinners in their squad, to add to their bowling attack. This would, therefore, need the Indian batsmen to play at their best. The England bowlers are capable in just one good session to bring disaster to a batting side. Sri Lanka experienced this in their just concluded Test series.
England captain Joe Root will be playing his 100th Test match and his team would be determined to give him a grand victory on this momentous occasion. England’s batting will depend on not only Root but also on Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes to get them a big total to defend.
India, on the other hand, are at home but have some issues of concern in their midst. Virat Kohli will be under pressure as a captain, although his winning streak in India as a leader has been very good. The social and digital world is full of Ajinkya Rahane’s leadership skills and an undue comparison has been ignited not only by the foreign press but also by some of our own Indian journalists and commentators.
The other area of concern is whether the successful stars of the last Test match in Australia be played ahead of their senior compatriots. This can lead to a healthy competition on the one hand. However, it can also go vice versa.
The winner of the series, one feels, will be the team that bats well. Both India and England have bowlers who can, in most conditions, bowl a side out in both innings, but it is the batters who will make the difference.
India need to continue with their positive attitude, a series win will not only be a boost for Test cricket, but a place in the finals of the WTC would be just the icing on the cake that the nation needs.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)