Virat Kohli and his men will walk into Edgbaston on Wednesday knowing they have the opportunity — and the challenge — of a lifetime. Over the next six weeks, they will pursue that rare commodity in Indian cricket: a Test series win away from home against a top opposition.
The record in this area is bleak: in matches in Australia, New Zealand, England, and South Africa, India has a win-loss ratio of 0.25, which is four Tests lost for every Test won. On English soil only, that ratio falls to 0.2. No series wins in Australia or South Africa; three in England, the last 11 years ago, when Kohli was still a teenager.
A shot at history
No international side travels well these days but for a team with aspirations of being the best in the world, this is no excuse. So India heads into these five Test matches against England with a shot at history, a chance to bury the ghosts of failures past, and the possibility of an epoch-defining triumph.
But we have been here before, only for all the optimism to evaporate in a fortnight’s time.
Too often, on pitches with bounce, pace or spice, India has been let down, either by scattergun bowling or flawed batting or dire catching or a combination of all three.
On the last two Test tours of England — 2011 and 2014 — James Anderson and Stuart Broad laid bare India’s weakness against the moving ball, mopping up between them 90 wickets from nine games. But Anderson is 36 now and Broad 32 and there has been talk in the England camp of rotating the two through this series; five Test matches compressed into 42 days is no laughing matter.
It must not be forgotten though that for all his advancing years, in 2017 Anderson managed 55 wickets at 17.58, a better average than anyone with more than 10 victims. How India handle him this time will hugely influence the result.
India’s showing in South Africa earlier this year, when it lost the Tests 2-1, was encouraging in parts but also dispiriting, because it felt the outcome could so easily have been different.
The touring party gave itself little time to get used to the conditions (although the captain did not believe it made a difference in the first Test), and then shot itself in the foot with poor, muddled team selection.
A gallant win in Johannesburg, accomplished with some extraordinarily brave batting, must not mask the fact that at decisive points in the first two Tests India let the game drift.
Then there’s the question of Kohli, who — in the unlikely event anyone was unaware — averaged 13.4 here last time, and was dismissed four times by Anderson.
All summer, England bowled a fourth-stump line — sometimes wider — at him and Kohli simply nicked off, pushing at the ball.
This tour has since been projected as a sort of personal revenge mission for Kohli — like some wronged gun-slinger in a Western, biding his time, waiting to unleash his savage fury on those who did him injustice.
Since that doomed 2014 campaign, Kohli has averaged near 65 and scored 15 Test hundreds, including ones in Australia and South Africa. Only England remains to be conquered, the one missing piece, the one question mark.
His individual success may not guarantee an Indian victory; but his failure will in all likelihood lead to an Indian defeat.
“It almost has to be a madness to be able to win away from home,” Kohli said after the Centurion loss in January.
If they’re mad enough, Kohli’s Indian team will go where so few of their predecessors have.
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