The battlefield is ready for what should be an intriguing Test series between hosts India and England, with the first of the four Tests starting in Chennai on Friday. India will go into the series on the back of an inspired series-winning performance in Australia, and all eyes will be on the Virat Kohli-led side as some of those young guns who starred Down Under return to action after a three-week break.
As India get ready to host England, we take a look at the Indian players to watch out for:
More than a year since making his mark in ODI cricket, Shubman Gill’s time in the Test arena finally arrived when he was named in the squad for the series against Australia in December last year.
And although fellow U-19 World Cup winner and his captain at that time, Prithvi Shaw, was favoured for the opening day-night Test in Adelaide, it was only thanks to the young Mumbai lad’s poor outing in that Test that led him to entering the playing eleven for the remaining three Tests.
As a result, Gill played a pivotal role at the top of the Indian batting line-up, forging two 50-plus opening stands with comeback man Rohit Sharma (Both coming in Sydney during the third Test), apart from scoring two fifties in the highly-successful series.
The Punjab batsman even inched closer to his maiden Test century, only to be dismissed for 91 by Nathan Lyon during the thrilling run-chase of 328 at the Gabba, as India sealed a historic win at the venue to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
Not just that, Gill has only been dismissed once in single figures among all the six Test innings he has played so far, which came in the first innings in Brisbane where he scored seven.
Facing the likes of James Anderson, Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes will pose a challenge for young Shubman and he is more than capable of living up to the expectations in favourable home conditions.
He was criticised for his slow-paced innings in Sydney despite scoring a fifty, but Cheteshwar Pujara remains a fearless, strong force in the Indian batting lineup.
Amidst a moderate showing in Australia during the first two Tests, Pujara entered the third Test in Sydney in need of a few big knocks and he did produce them.
In the Sydney Test, he did score a fifty, but his 176-ball knock came under scrutiny for his slow-paced approach.
However, amid all the criticism, Pujara remained unflustered and followed it up with a 205-ball knock of 77 in the second innings, as India salvaged a gritty draw in Sydney, finishing their innings at 334-5 while chasing 407.
Later, Pujara made headlines once again when he sustained several blows to his body on Day five of the fourth Test in Brisbane to score a gritty 56 as India battled hard to beat Australia by three wickets to seal a historic win and the series as well.
He scored 56 off 211 balls, with seven fours to his name.
Earlier this week, Pujara opened up on that knock, saying that there are times when strike-rate hardly matters in Tests and his batting approach changes according to situations.
Ahed of the Test series, England captain Joe Root was all praise for the Saurashtra batsman.
“I had (the) pleasure of playing alongside him only a couple of games at Yorkshire and you know to learn from him, speak to about batting and his love of the game, it is really interesting,” Root said at the virtual press conference.
“So, having played against him as well and being at the wrong end of him, making some huge scores and been out there for long periods of time, you know you learn from those kinds of innings. And you have seen his importance, the value that he adds to the Indian team, he is going to be a huge wicket for us, no doubt about that.”
Another unlikely star who was born during the concluding stages of India’s tour to Australia was the 21-year-old all-rounder Washington Sundar who stepped up for Ajinkya Rahane and Co just when the team needed him the most.
India were hit hard by injuries as they entered the fourth and final Test in Brisbane, with R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja ruled out. This is when the team management turned to the young man from Chennai for the series finale.
The Indian team on paper looked weak and less-balanced with the absence of a few core players, but the visitors impressed early on in the match, with Sundar finishing with figures of 3/89 as Australia posted 369.
And a much bigger moment arrived for the all-rounder when India batted in the first innings. The visitors found themselves in a spot of bother at 186-6 when Rishabh Pant was dismissed, and in came Sundar (62), who went onto forge a game-changing 123-run stand with Shardul Thakur (67). It was an inspired display from the duo and Sundar’s performance on his Test debut will remain a trademark for many young upcoming talents.
Come the England series, Sundar will once again be refreshed and ready to build on his excellent form and will be relied on heavily to produce all-round results.
Following his heroics over the last two Tests against Australia in Sydney and Brisbane, Rishabh Pant has once again roared back to form and silenced his critics. He’s been under the scrutiny right from the time he made his international debut and the Australia Test series was in a way a seminal moment in the youngsters’ career so far.
Yes, the Delhi wicket-keeper batsman had a moderate outing in the IPL (343 runs from 13 matches), and his showing in the Boxing Day Test in MCG looked less promising despite getting off to a start, scoring just 29 runs.
However, Pant came back to form with two 50-plus scores in the third and fourth Tests, scoring 97 and 89* in the second innings of both Tests. He was the one who showed the way on how to push the mighty Aussies on the back foot.
Pant, like few others, braved an injury midway through the third Test when he hurt his left elbow while facing a short ball from Cummins, and was taken for scans. However, with India already depleted due to injuries, Pant battled hard to conjure a couple of magical innings. And there were hardly any nerves as he ended the series on a memorable note.
On 2 February, Pant, for all his efforts, was named among three candidates for the ICC Player of the Month award for January.
He will be looking to build on the momentum from the Australia series and look to seal his place in the starting eleven as the competition with Wriddhiman Saha gets hotter.
R Ashwin’s record in Tests on home soil could make him an impregnable force this time around too against England.
In just 43 Test matches in India, the all-rounder from Tamil Nadu has scalped 254 wickets, with his best figures reading 7/59 in a Test against New Zealand at Indore.
He will take inspiration from the recent series against Australia, where he scalped 12 wickets from three matches and put in a crucial performance with the bat too in Sydney to pull off a heroic draw battling back spasms.
With Jadeja absent, Ashwin will again lead the spin attack and he could be the biggest threat to the England batsmen with his guile and skills he possesses.
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