Cricket: Key battles to shape the Test series between England and India

Last Updated July 30 2018, 15:14Cricket
James Anderson tormented Virat Kohli in 2104
James Anderson tormented Virat Kohli in 2104

Richard Mann takes a look at the key head-to-head battles ahead of the forthcoming Test series England and India.

James Anderson v Virat Kohli

Off all the talking points ahead of this mouthwatering Test series, the the resumption of the Anderson/Kohli soap opera is unquestionably the biggest and whichever player enjoys the better of their battle over the next few weeks will probably have gone a long way to sealing victory for his team.

Kohli's first experience of Test cricket in England was a sobering one as the right-hander averaged only 13.40 in the-five match series, with a top score of 39, and it was Anderson who proved his chief tormentor.

Anderson dismissed Kohli four times in that series, exposing a flaw in his technique outside off stump with surgical precision and leaving the Indian a shadow of his former self by the end of the tour.

Like the great player he is, Kohli has bounced back with a mountain of runs, firstly when England toured India in late 2016 - making a staggering 655 runs in the four-match series at an average of 109.16 - and then, crucially, in South Africa earlier this year.

Kohli's previous struggles in South Africa were attributed to his perceived weakness against the moving ball but in desperately tough batting conditions and against an attack containing the likes of Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Kasigo Rabada, he found a way to prosper.

His series tally of 286 runs at 47.66 were by some distance the best numbers of any bastman on either side and his 153 at Centurion was an innings of rare quality.

Kohli's technique will come under close scrutiny again when the series gets underway but the Indian seems to have found the game to succeed in testing conditions and any batsman able to make big runs in South Africa should be able to do well on English shores.

He might not leave the ball as well as he could, and the fact he wants to feel bat on ball more than is advisable against will keep Anderson interested early in his innings, but Kohli appears content to back his own talents, his fabulous hands and incredible eyes, and 21 Test-match hundreds are testament to the fact that once his gets in, he tends to go big. Very big.

Throw into the mix the that Anderson will be fresh and hungry having returned from a recent injury and that Kohli is desperate to lead his side to a series victory in England, we have all the ingredients for a titanic clash.

Oh, and the pair don't like each other very much, either.

Expect fireworks.

James Anderson
James Anderson remains England's bowling key bowling weapon

Ben Stokes v Hardik Pandya

It has been said that Ben Stokes is the heartbeat of this England team, the best all-rounder in world cricket whose value to the side became even more apparent during his absence last winter.

A dynamic middle-order batsman who has made dramatic improvements to his defense over the last 18 months, Stokes is capable of reaching speeds of 90mph with the ball and offers England a priceless fifth bowling option. He is the best fielder in country, too.

Cricketers like Stokes are gold dust, blockbuster performers who put bums on seats and he plays a vital role in balancing the side and allowing captain Joe Root to protect the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad when required.

In Hardik Pandya, India have every right to hope that they have unearthed someone in the same mould.

At just 24 years of age and with only seven Test caps to his name, the Mumbai Indians star still has plenty to learn but the early signs have been most encouraging.

Pandya already has a Test hundred on his CV and enjoyed a promising tour of South Africa earlier in the year, batting with his usual pomp and generating some lively pace with the ball when Kohli required him to provide support to the main seamers.

His aggressive 93 in the first Test came in trying circumstances and very nearly clawed India back into that game, giving an indication of what might be to come if Pandya's immense talent can be harnessed properly.

Unusually quiet in the recent ODI series, he doesn't usually stay out of the limelight for long and if India are to push England close over the next few weeks, they will need their younger generation to stand up and be counted in such a big series.

Step forward Hardik Pandya.

Hardik Pandya
Hardik Pandya is developing into a high-class all-rounder

Jonny Bairstow v Dinesh Karthik

Jonny Bairstow is regarded as one of the best, if not the best, wicketkeeper-batsmen in world cricket at present and comes into this series with his reputation at an all-time high and his importance to the England team unquestioned.

Bairstow has recently been promoted to number five in the batting order on the back of a sustained run of form and the extra responsibility is something the Yorkshireman is understood to be relishing.

However, he only made 48 runs at an average of 16.00 in the drawn Pakistan series earlier in the summer and appeared to struggle against the moving ball.

A first-ball duck in the first innings of the recent County Championship match against Lancashire gave another example of those frailties but Bairstow responded with a pugnacious 82 in the second dig and given his impressive form in white-ball cricket for England of late, will surely be full of confidence ahead of the first Test.

He'll want to nail down the number five position, though, while the extra burden of those demands could be multiplied by the possibility of England including two spinners in their side.

Standing up to spin bowling places extra scrutiny on wicketkeepers and it is to be hoped Bairstow has broad enough shoulders to cope with all that England are asking of him.

If Bairstow is feeling the heat, spare a thought for Dinesh Karthik who is back donning the gloves for India following injury to first-choice 'keeper Wriddhiman Saha.

At 33, this is probably last chance saloon for Karthik, who currently averages 27.13 from his 24 Test matches and will know India need bigger runs from him if he is to match up to Bairstow.

A breezy innings of 21 in the last ODI confirmed Karthik to be in confident mood and 82 in the recent tour game at Essex again suggested he has his game in good working order.

As for his keeping, England is as tough a school as any for subcontinent keepers but the recent heatwave might mean lateral movement is less of an issue than the likes of MS Dhoni have had to contend with in the past.

Nevertheless, in a series that could be decided by fine margins, Karthink's glovework and batting will need to be on song if he is to prove a worthy adversary to Bairstow.

Jonny Bairstow
Jonny Bairstow is a vital cog in England's side

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