Ian Chappell: Good news for Virat Kohli and company
India have the stronger batting line-up of the two teams and their variety in attack could help negate England's middle-order strength if the openers continue to fail
There's a rare opportunity beckoning for India; the chance to beat both England and Australia in a Test series on their opponent's home soil. England is in a state of flux after a devastating loss at Lord's and then a less than convincing win over the predictably inconsistent Pakistan at Headingley. Australia's problems are self-induced with the ball tampering scandal in South Africa ensuring their two best batsmen will be missing.
A reasonably settled Indian side's first hurdle is England. They'll face that challenge boosted by the confidence that the hosts are no closer to solving the myriad of problems that surfaced on their recent tour of Australia and New Zealand.
England offie Dominic Bess
England's top order collapses are now a regular occurrence which is not surprising when both opening positions are under a cloud. If it weren't for the fact that Alistair Cook's numerous partners have been under intense scrutiny, the senior player himself would be in jeopardy.
Two classic Cook double centuries can't mask the fact that in his last 29 Test innings - a period of 12 months - he's had 18 scores under 20, including 10 single figure dismissals. If an opener isn't making centuries regularly then he has to ensure the opposition doesn't get at the middle order while the ball is still new. Too often Cook is doing neither.
Adding to England's frailties, Cook's current partner Keaton Jennings is an already failed Test opener who has a porous defence. Previously, a visit from India would be a wonderful opportunity for struggling English openers to recapture their form, but the tourists now have a well-balanced attack that includes genuine pace and cagey seamers in addition to the traditionally strong spin bowling.
New selection guru Ed Smith may have cleverly plucked the in-form Jos Buttler from the T20 2018, but the problem is his confidently aggressive batting only bolsters an already strong middle-order. At least Smith has convinced Joe Root to bat at No. 3 which is the correct spot for the consistent captain.
Root is followed by Dawid Malan who is unconvincing at No. 4 and Jonny Bairstow's presence at five would be more palatable if he conceded the gloves to Buttler and played solely as a frontline batsman. All this adds up to a lot of uncertainty for a team about to enter a tough series against a strong opponent. However, the headaches don't end there for England. Smith's other notable choice in his selection debut was off-spinner Dom Bess, an energetic and effervescent cricketer.
His batting and desire to be involved in the contest is laudable but the early signs are that his off-spin shouldn't threaten an Indian team bred on facing these type of bowlers regularly. In one over at Headingley, Bess delivered more full tosses than R Ashwin offers up in a year, a prospect that players like Virat Kohli and Murali Vijay should be relishing. And apart from the opening batting, England's other major problem on the Australian and New Zealand tour was the pace attack comprised all right-arm bowlers of similar speed.
England's inability to unearth a genuine pace bowler is a greater problem when they're overseas but if the late UK summer is hot and dry, they'll need someone who can shake things up in an attempt to dramatically change the course of a game.
In recent times, England have relied on swing bowling and a vibrant middle-order to produce success at home. There's no doubt that the swing bowling of Jimmy Anderson will present the Indian line-up with a serious challenge and if there's movement off the seam, Stuart Broad will also be a handful.
Nevertheless, India have the stronger batting line-up of the two teams and their variety in attack could help negate England's middle-order strength if the openers continue to fail. England is an enticing prospect for Kohli's India before they even contemplate Australia's woes.
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