International summers in England are usually a bit mental. It’s all about cramming as much cricket in as possible and hoping that the players don’t collapse and die under the strain. This summer is even more rushed than usual, with five Tests against India tightly packed together like German excursions into a Brazilian penalty area. Although probably with less hilariously spectacular results.
This particular series brings together a team on a run of six defeats in their last seven matches with one that hasn’t won away from home since 2011, back when England were actually good and Rolf Harris was a much loved entertainer, as opposed to being history’s greatest monster. Something has to give eventually. And we don’t mean about Rolf Harris.
England appear to be a complete rudderless shambles at the moment, with a captain that no-one wants, a coach that no-one respects and a star player that is utterly hated by the rest of the squad. Still, that’s enough about the FIFA World Cup – let’s talk about the cricket!
The warmup series against Sri Lanka may have gone horribly, horribly wrong, but there were at least some promising signs, particularly in the form of England’s new players: Joe Root, Gary Ballance, Sam Robson and Moeen Ali all made hundreds while Liam Plunkett cast off his role as ‘the hunky one’ to take a bag of wickets in Leeds. In fact it was the more experienced heads who let the side down: Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Matt Prior and Alastair Cook all took turns in stinking the place out.
Going into this series, there hasn’t been a knee-jerk reaction to that defeat: Cook will still captain, Broad and Anderson will still share the new ball and Chris Woakes will still carry the drinks. The only likely change looks like being Ben Stokes in for Chris Jordan, a move that will lengthen England’s batting – Stokes will presumably bat at seven – while not particularly weakening the bowling. In fact, anything that results in the ball being thrown to Liam Plunkett sooner is fine with us.
The same questions will still apply – can Cook come up with some sort of ‘plan’ that doesn’t involve just hoping that everything somehow works out okay? Can the callow top order score enough runs? Can Broad and Anderson continue to ignore the ravages of time?
The main excitement for England fans may come in the form of Jos Buttler, currently on standby for Matt Prior. The latter’s performance at Leeds was particularly bad – as well as forgetting how to bat, he now seems to have forgotten how to catch – so a Buttler cameo down at number eight might just provide some excitement to distract from England’s painful descent to the the bottom of the Test rankings. Having said that, Prior will be fit, leaving England fans with nothing bar Plunkett’s manly facial hair to cling to. Not literally, of course – that would be horrific.
For India there seems to be a genuine debate around the makeup of their side, with capturing 20 wickets looking like the main challenge – the slower, flatter pitches of England these days should provide some comfort for their batsmen, unless the ball starts to swing, in which case they’re fucked. There’s talk of all-rounder Stuart Binny coming in to balance the side, which would at least force MS Dhoni to actually take some responsibility for his batting. Otherwise R Ashwin might get a gig, mainly for his ability to keep it tight, rather than because he can expect to be a massive threat.
For India this is really all about the new generation shaking off the ‘soft touch’ tag that their predecessors earned. Can they get enough runs on the board for their bowlers to work with? Can they take enough wickets? Can Gautam Gambhir find a more amusing way to miss matches than banging his head on the floor dropping a catch? For the last of those questions, we’re definitely going with no.
England to win. Alastair Cook to score lots of runs. Liam Plunkett to do the business. Everything to be alright in the world, at least until the next Test starts, about ten minutes later.