England started 2021 off in style with an emphatic 2-0 victory over Sri Lanka.
Certainly, ‘The Moose Cup’ delivered but up next it is a different challenge altogether. Four tests away to India, who just beat Australia down-under – it doesn’t get more difficult than that!
So, with a lot to prove, and the ability to prove it, we’ve examined what to expect from Joe Root’s side ahead of their four-Test tour series in India and identified five questions they’re facing…
1. How will their top three look?
The return of Rory Burns and absence of Jonny Bairstow, who has been rested for the first two Tests, is likely to mean a reshuffle at the top but how exactly will it look?
Burns, Dom Sibley, and Zak Crawley seem likely to be the top-order-trio.
That is until Buttler leaves after the first Test and Bairstow returns after the second Test. Then, Bairstow could slot in at No.3, No.5, No.6, and even No.7 – or carry the drinks. It’s all very simple. I promise.
Crawley, who did not have the easiest of times in Sri Lanka, will likely return to his favoured No.3 spot with Burns set to open with Sibley.
The Surrey opener, who was absent for the tour of Sri Lanka, gives England a left-hand option upfront – something that might just help against the various forms of left-arm spin India hurl at England – and some added experience.
Elsewhere, judging by Sibley’s last knock, he’s in the mood to grind out a few vital runs, while Crawley back at three will certainly be something to keep an eye on as the Kent protégée looks to cement his place before Bairstow’s return – can anyone remember his last score in that role for England? I think it might’ve been a double-ton?
2. Ollie Pope or Dan Lawrence?
It’s a wonderful problem to have too many solutions.
Ollie Pope doesn’t seem too far away from a return as he recovers from shoulder surgery, which gives England an interesting dilemma.
The 23-year-old will be looking to impress in India and if his fluency in the warm-ups in Sri Lanka is anything to go by, he should slot straight back into what is already a formidable batting line-up.
Pope is likely to battle Dan Lawrence for a spot in the lower-middle order (no.6) – rather than risking one of the two at 3. Expect rotation between the two across the four tests – and perhaps even in the summer ahead.
Lawrence made an impressive start to life in the Test arena in Sri Lanka but he was certainly reminded how difficult this format is.
Even so, it is pretty clear Lawrence has the technique and ability to play at this level and certainly deserves another go in India.
The question remains – will it be Pope or Lawrence for that final middle-order spot? Either way, England look well-placed. It’s a wonderful position to be in – isn’t it?
3. How will life be without Jos Buttler?
Naturally, Jos Buttler – who hit 131 runs at 65.5 in Sri Lanka and picked up his first Test stumping alongside nine catches – will be missed. But in his absence – cometh the understudy. Enter Ben Foakes, again.
There’s quite simply no one like Buttler, who is a game-changer with the bat and one of Root’s right-hand men, but while Foakes is a different sort of player, he’s certainly someone to be excited about.
A tour of India is a wonderful chance for Foakes to (once again) shine on the subcontinent. The talented gloveman’s career has certainly been stunted by the plethora of options England have in the keeper-batsman role.
Despite it being two years since Foakes’ last Test innings, the 27-year-old has excelled when given the opportunity in the past, averaging 41.50 in five tests, including a century on debut back in 2018.
Whilst, that knock is Foakes’ only three-figure score for England, many expect that to change when the Surrey man takes to the crease for England again. Oh, and behind the stumps – Foakes; he’ll be as classy as ever.
4. How will they use Jimmy and Broad?
Jofra Archer’s return only further increases England’s fast bowling riches and means they’ll surely rotate their two most experienced heads.
Last time out, Jimmy Anderson returned career figures overseas with a stunning six-for, while Stuart Broad was similarly majestic in the first Test without claiming as many scalps.
With Ben Stokes back, it is likely that England will continue to rotate their two most experienced heads – a tactic that has worked wonderfully so far. Save them for the green grass of Headingley, lads.
5. Will Moeen Ali return as the third spinner?
Moeen Ali spent most of the Sri Lanka tour in quarantine – after testing positive upon arrival. A few days out and then it is back to quarantine for six days in Chennai. It’s a tough one to take for the all-rounder.
That said, he could well be set to step back into the Test arena for the first time since August 2019 – which is quite simply fantastic news.
A lack of match practice may mean that Mo is unlikely to feature in the opening test in India but Chris Silverwood has hinted he will play in the series.
Hopefully, he makes the most of that chance. We’ve got a feeling he will.
Written by Jack Buttler