The final leg of India's tour of England and Ireland see Virat Kohli and co. take on England in a five-match Test series, the first of which will begin on August 1 at Birmingham. A lot has been said and done prior to the start of the series. It's not just the trophy which would be at stake, but also the bragging rights. For England, it's a chance to show they are a team to reckon in the longer format. As for India, they want to do away with the 'home bullies' tag, and would want to avenge the humiliating losses in 2011 and 2014.
The first Test at Birmingham will give a hint on how the series might pan out. Both the teams would want to start things on a positive note. So the starting XI would be very very crucial.
England are known to produce pitches which would have a lot for the fast bowlers, but hardly anything for the spinners. The hosts have only one frontline spinner in their squad, so it's very clear that they would have a pace-heavy bowling attack. On the other hand, India have a dilemma to deal with. Kohli's team has three really good fast bowlers, but also have three really good spinners.
Let's take a look at how the two teams would line-up on August 1.
The hosts have only 13 players in the squad for the first Test, but there are a couple of tough decisions to make. England can go in with Moeen Ali as their main spinner, and play David Malan and improve their batting. Or, there is an option to drop Malan and play Adil Rashid and beef up the spin attack. It more or less seems the latter would happen, given the strength of Indian batting.
For starters, former Test captain and nation's leading run-scorer in this format, Alastair Cook, will continue to open, and will see Keaton Jennings stepping out on the crease with him.
England skipper Joe Root has a sensational record playing at No.4, but given his team's struggle to find a one-down player, he will come to bat at No.3. Given it is expected that Malan won't play, so Jonny Bairstow will get a promotion in the batting order.
Following him will be Ben Stokes at No.5, Jos Buttler at No.7 and Moeen at No.8. The bowling attack will see Rashid with his spin bowling, and the pace trio of Stuart Broad, James Anderson and a potential debut for James Porter, who'll possibly get a place over Sam Curran.
England possible XI: Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings, Joe Root (c), Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wk), Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, James Porter
Kohli and Indian team management have a lot of headaches in terms of team selection. There is a huge dilemma about the spinning options, with Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav all staking claim for a place in starting XI. Then there is a decision to be made regarding the bowling combination. Given it is expected to be a fast bowler's paradise, all the three pacers look set to play.
After the tour match, it's a surety that Shikhar Dhawan will not open, meaning KL Rahul will be Murali Vijay's partner at the top of the order. The middle order of India is very consistent, with Cheteshwar Pujara at No.3, skipper Kohli at No.4, Ajinkya Rahane at No.5 and wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik at No.6.
The No.7 looks set for Hardik Pandya, who will like the English conditions, and play as an all-rounder. Out of the three spinners, the experience of Ashwin and Jadeja will fight out for that one spot, meaning Kuldeep will have to wait in sidelines. And finally, there would the three pacers - Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami.
India possible XI: Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin/Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma