Rajkot - Top-ranked India will look to settle old scores by
unleashing their spinners on a fragile-looking England when the first Test of a
five-match series begins in Rajkot on Wednesday.
England were the last team to win a Test series on Indian
soil when they came from behind to triumph 2-1 in 2012, but India are currently
enjoying an impressive run.
Talismanic captain Virat Kohli has scored two Test double
centuries this year and has led his side to four series wins in a row after
taking over the captaincy in 2015.
Recent victories, including a whitewash of New Zealand, have
not only dimmed memories of three consecutive Test series defeat to England -
in 2011, 2012 and 2014 - but also whetted India's appetite for revenge.
Their prospects have been boosted by the recent sparkling
form of Ravichandran Ashwin, who became the second quickest bowler to reach 200
wickets during India's 3-0 demolition of the Black Caps.
The off-spinner will look to exploit an England batting
line-up that struggled on slow and low pitches during their recent tour of
Bangladesh which saw them lose a Test to the minnows for the first time.
"Ashwin is a good bowler. He uses his variations very
well, especially the way he approaches the crease. He's always looking to
attacking and outfox a batsman," former England star Kevin Pietersen told
The Cricketer magazine.
Alastair Cook's men, fourth in the world rankings, were cut
down to size by teenage Bangladeshi spinner Mehedi Hasan who bagged 19 wickets
from the two games last month.
The second Test upset also reminded England of shortcomings
in their own spinning department but Cook said he was confident that Adil
Rashid, Moeen Ali and rookie Zafar Ansari would deliver, despite just having
105 wickets between them.
England have also brought back 39-year-old Gareth Batty
while Pakistan great Saqlain Mushtaq is there to mentor the spinners as they
confront a formidable Indian batting line-up.
Mushtaq is likely to have a calming effect in a dressing
room, and Cook believes his side will bounce back from the Bangladesh defeat
and should never be written off.
"Every time this side has been questioned we've always
found a way of improving and I expect that.
"It's exciting because we are quite heavy underdogs and
that is sometimes a very good place to be," he told reporters in Mumbai on
England's middle-order also looks shaky however with Gary
Ballance averaging just 18 in his last eight innings.
Their pace department will also suffer from the absence of
Jimmy Anderson, England's all-time leading wicket-taker with 463 scalps, who
has recovered from a shoulder injury but not in time for the first Test.
India have some nagging concerns at the top of the batting
order. Despite trying out five different combinations in their last 14 Tests,
India have failed to post a century opening partnership.
With injured openers Shikhar Dhawan and Lokesh Rahul ruled
out of the first two Tests, selectors are scurrying for new combinations.
Coach Anil Kumble said India would not be weighed down by
memories of their last encounters with England, insisting recent form was more
"Yes, some players played in the last series but for us
... immediate performance matters. That's the confidence we would like to take
into the series," Kumble said in Rajkot on Sunday.
Adding spice to the series is the decision review system
(DRS) which India have agreed to use for the first time on a trial basis after
resisting it for so long.
The Rajkot match will be followed by Tests in Visakhapatnam,
Mohali, Mumbai and Chennai.
India (from): Virat Kohli (captain), Murali Vijay, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wicketkeeper), Hardik Pandya, Karun Nair, Ravichandran Ashwin, Amit Mishra, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Jayant Yadav
England (from): Alastair Cook (captain), Moeen Ali, Zafar Ansari, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Gareth Batty, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler, Ben Duckett, Steven Finn, Haseeb Hameed, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes