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It’s Root vs. Kohli As England Face India

By: Srinivasa Venugopalan, Ayaktan Roy

It has been over a year since India last played a home international and England will be the first team to visit the country. They will take on the hosts in four Tests (two in Chennai & two in Ahmedabad), five T20Is (in Ahmedabad) and three ODIs (in Pune), starting with the longest format in Chennai on February 5th.

Both India and England are in impeccable form, winning their most recent away tours against Australia and Sri Lanka respectively. This makes the race to the World Test Championship final to be played at Lord’s Cricket Ground later this year even more competitive with three teams – India, Australia and England still in contention to make it to the final against New Zealand. This series against India plays a vital role for England who are currently placed fourth in the points table.

India are unbeaten in their last 14 Tests at home (W11 D3) and have won each of their last eight Tests in their country. The last time a team visited India and beat them in a Test was Australia, all the way back in February 2017. England’s most recent Test tour of India (2016) is not something the Englishmen would like to look back to, they lost four of their five Test matches (D1), two of which were lost by an innings.

Much of the talk ahead of the series is about the two captains – Virat Kohli and Joe Root. One will return to the side after missing the conclusion of India’s monumental victory Down Under, while the other has amassed a staggering 426 runs from only two Tests against Sri Lanka at an average of 106.5. The English captain is set to become the 15th man to appear in 100 Test matches for England and the 69th player from any nation to do so.

He is also just 215 runs shy of becoming England’s third-highest run-getter in Tests.

Prior to the tour of Sri Lanka, the English captain had scored a total of 224 runs from his eight innings at home in 2020 with his highest score being 68* against the West Indies. During the two-match Test series against the Lions, Root started off with a brilliant double-hundred (228) in his first innings with 200 of those runs coming against spinners.

Root’s 228 – 1st Test Against Sri Lanka

During the second Test match, he scored yet another century in his first innings (186), accumulating a total 426 runs across the two matches, of which 381 runs unsurprisingly came versus the spin contingent.

The English skipper was effortless while handling the Sri Lankan spinners and was seen employing the sweep shot with comfort.

He accumulated 34% of his runs during the series playing the sweep shot. Root played 94 conventional sweep shots during the Test series. To put that into perspective, he had attempted just 307 sweeps across his 97 Test appearances beforehand.

Root could be a role model for his teammates on how to play spin in Indian conditions. They will need to learn quickly however, Jonny Bairstow was the only other man to play the shot semi-frequently (10%+). It should come as little surprise that Bairstow was the second-highest run-scorer for the touring team. With this in mind, it’s all the more worrying that the wicketkeeper/batsman is set to miss some of the India tour.

When England toured India in 2012-13, spin was a decisive factor in their Test series victory. English spinners Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar took 37 wickets between them in the four-match Test series. Jack Leach and Dom Bess will be pivotal to their fortunes, with the former of those two bowlers recently becoming England’s all-time leading wicket-taker in Sri Lanka (28) – if he could do it there, his skipper will be feeling quietly confident that he could do the same in India.

The Englishman’s opposite number, Virat Kohli, is looking to equal M.S. Dhoni’s record for the most Test wins at home by an Indian skipper, he currently has 20 wins, one fewer than his predecessor. The Indian captain is also just 14 runs away from surpassing West Indies legend Clive Lloyd’s record of becoming the 4th highest run-getter in Tests as captain (5,220). Not to mention the fact that Kohli (843) has the opportunity to become only the third Indian batsman to log 1,000 Test runs on home soil against England – something even the great Sachin Tendulkar failed to achieve (Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath). Kohli is on the brink of a multitude of milestones ahead of this high-profile series.

Kohli is no lesser of a player of spin himself. He has scored 42% of his 7,318 runs in Tests against spin, while Root has scored 40.7 per cent of his runs in the longest format from the same bowling type.

The skippers have been exceptional in the longest format, both as players and as leaders. Kohli averages 53.4 from his 147 innings so far, while his counterpart is just a tad behind at 49.4 across his 181 innings. However, the Englishman averages better when not captain of his side at 52.8 as compared to 45.7 when he has donned the skipper’s hat. Meanwhile, Kohli has rejoiced in his role as a skipper, he has scored 20 tons and averages 60.7 from his 92 innings so far, averaging almost 19 runs more as a leader than when he has not led the side.

There has been much debate in India of late, around the question of captaincy. Should Kohli relinquish his role as skipper and hand over the reins to his teammate Ajinkya Rahane? Rahane, in India’s recent tour of Australia, proved his mettle by leading India to a second consecutive series victory Down Under. After the first Test in Adelaide where India succumbed to their lowest ever total of 36 in a Test innings and lost the match by eight wickets, India’s skipper (Kohli) had to leave his team for the birth of his first child in India. In the absence of one of the best batsmen in the world and a string of injuries through the tour, India fought back from being 0-1 down to win the series 2-1. Much of the success was attributed to Rahane’s captaincy.

The victory was even more profound when compared to the 2018-19 Test series win. This time Australia had fielded their best 11, Steve Smith and David Warner were back in the dressing room. Their pace attack of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc was being compared to Australia’s best bowling trio of – Glen McGrath, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie.

It is fair to say that Virat Kohli is arguably India’s most successful captain ever, he has won 33 of his 56 Tests as a skipper with a 59% win rate. Rahane on other hand has a win percentage of 80 from his five Tests as captain and has not lost a single Test. However, the same team that surrendered to one of their worst defeats in Adelaide during the first Test under Kohli, propelled India to one of their best ever wins under Rahane.

It’s an open debate and one that will get more heated if they slump to an early defeat in Chennai against the touring English. Whilst there is an expectation that India will take the series, it would be premature to overlook Joe Root’s men – they have managed to record five overseas Test wins in succession ahead of this match – their longest such run since 1914 (seven in a row between 1911 and 1914).

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