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Updated January 24th, 2024 at 18:32 IST

India's Spinball vs England's Bazball: Rohit's men bank on spin for first strike

India's unalloyed dominance at home over the last 12 years will be put through its most unique examination till date when Rohit Sharma's side faces a trend-defying England in the first match of what promises to be a stirring five-Test series from Thursday.

Reported by: Press Trust Of India
rohit sharma
rohit sharma | Image:@X

 India's unalloyed dominance at home over the last 12 years will be put through its most unique examination till date when Rohit Sharma's side faces a trend-defying England in the first match of what promises to be a stirring five-Test series from Thursday.

No team has been as invincible as India at home since their 1-2 defeat against the Three Lions led by Alastair Cook in 2012, stitching together a bull run of 16 successive series wins, including seven series sweeps.

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If one further breaks down the stats, India have lost just three Tests out of 44 they played in their own backyard in this phase, and this is a power walk even beyond the all-conquering West Indies in the '80s or Australia of the turn of the century.

Several factors have contributed to this astonishing run over the last decade, including favourable pitches, bowlers who knew how to exploit those tracks and batters who churned out runs like popcorn from a vending machine.

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But two players have stood head and shoulders above the rest in these conquests -- off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja.

From Thursday, the Ash-Jaddu duet will be on show here at the RGI Stadium, where the pitch is expected to turn and grip as the match moves towards its conclusion.

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England already have a taste of what these two can do from their past visits here, and they will be worried, particularly about Ashwin.

The 37-year-old still retains the burning zest of a 17-year-old to keep improving his craft and since 2012, Ashwin has grabbed 283 wickets from 46 Tests averaging a shade over 19.

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Jadeja might often get viewed as a supporting act to Ashwin, but in his own right, the Saurashtra man is a potent threat, and his deliveries that dart on straight could confuse the batters on a turner.

Jadeja has taken 191 wickets from 39 Tests in the period where Ashwin kicked up a bedlam in opposition ranks to ensure that they don't get breathing space from both the ends. Together, they have bagged 500 wickets at an average of 21.

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In all likelihood, India will also include a third spinner to the combination in the form of either Axar Patel or Kuldeep Yadav, with the former having a better chance at the moment.

England will be aware that no amount of preparation involving scruffing up pitches some 1600 miles away in Abu Dhabi will be enough to tackle this real menace, and in that sense, they will also need to tame the demons inside their own minds.

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What could work for them is that India will not have the presence and solidity of Virat Kohli at No. 4, as he has skipped the opening two Tests owing to personal reasons.

He is a towering presence against England in Test cricket. The star batter has made 1991 runs against them from 28 matches with five hundreds, but more than the numbers, his ability to master grand occasions will be missed.

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Middle-order batter Rajat Patidar is expected to join the squad as a replacement for Kohli for the Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam matches, though India's No.4 and 5 will be Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul with KS Bharat doing the wicket-keeping duties.

Despite their talisman's absence, India is still a tall hurdle for the 'Bazball-ing' England to cross over.

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Of course, they have won a Test series in Pakistan 3-0 in late 2022 but a set of proven match-winners offer the visitors a far tougher challenge here.

The whole furor over the return of young off-spinner Shoaib Bashir after the delay in processing his Indian visa too might have disturbed them ahead of an important fixture. Skipper Ben Stokes has already stated that he is "devastated" for the 20-year-old rookie.

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But this is not to say that England are totally incapable of pulling off a miracle. Under Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum, they have been able to dish out a really fascinating brand of cricket.

Notwithstanding that, the visitors need more than one element to come together for a meaningful fight -- big runs from veteran Joe Root and Stokes, a few wickets upfront from the ever-green James Anderson and their spinners who have no significant experience in these conditions.

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On the periphery, it is asking for too much.

But Test cricket is a strange and unpredictable beast and it has the history of producing some truly extraordinary spectacles.

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Will Hyderabad offer one or will it be an all too familiar Indian romp? The wait is on.

Teams (from): Rohit Sharma (Captain), Shubman Gill, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul, KS Bharat (WK), Dhruv Jurel (WK), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohd. Siraj, Mukesh Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah (VC), Avesh Khan.

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England: Ben Stokes (Captain), Rehan Ahmed, James Anderson, Gus Atkinson, Jonny Bairstow, Dan Lawrence, Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Ben Foakes, Tom Hartley, Jack Leach, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Joe Root, Mark Wood.

Match starts at 9.30 AM. 

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Published January 24th, 2024 at 15:36 IST

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