Here Press Association Sport looks at five talking points as Joe Root‘s side look to overcome the world’s top-ranked Test side.
BELT-AND-BRACES… BUT NO RASHID, SURELY?
England’s selection for the first Test will be intriguing, and it will be no surprise if they name 13 to cover all bases. The batting picks itself, with opener Keaton Jennings and Dawid Malan in the middle order nonetheless potentially vulnerable at some point over the next six weeks. It is likely an extra third seamer will at least arrive in Edgbaston next week, but the identity of the spinners is most interesting.
Adil Rashid has effectively de-selected himself – irrespective of coach Trevor Bayliss’ recent hints to the contrary – and he will surely be left to pursue his white-ball plans. Moeen Ali and Jack Leach will give England the option to turn the ball either way… or both.
There was a minor sub-plot at Chelmsford on Tuesday when India persuaded their hosts that the warm-up fixture against Essex should be played over three days instead of four. Eastern whispers suggested the tourists were unhappy with the playing area – pitch too green, outfield too brown. But nothing official was confirmed other than India did not want to over-exert themselves, and will therefore travel on to Birmingham a day early with a spring in their step.
It fits a conspiracy narrative of home countries – last winter’s Ashes a case in point – depriving tourists useful preparation. Chelmsford did bear an uncanny resemblance to the Ahmedabad B pitch on which England faced Haryana in 2012. Alastair Cook’s men went on to win that series, and in this instance India just happen to have arrived during an unaccustomed heatwave.
KOHLI V ANDERSON
It was before the Mumbai Test in December 2016 that this battle began to hot up. With Virat Kohli already in suitably imperious form, England’s all-time leading wicket-taker James Anderson chose to point out it may not be quite the same story when the India captain heads back to this country.
It was here in 2014 that Kohli’s prolific career suffered a blip with a series average of 13.4 in 10 innings. Scroll on two-and-a-half years, he responded to Anderson’s observations with a mere 235 in an innings victory at the Wankhede as India surged towards a 4-0 series victory. The rematch is eagerly anticipated.
Birmingham has the honour of staging England’s 1,000th Test next week. It is a showpiece which will also get under way on Yorkshire Day, August 1, so home captain Joe Root will be feeling like he belongs. The omens appear quite good then for the hosts.
AND THE WINNERS ARE?
This may depend on next month’s weather. If England’s driest summer goes the distance, India will be best equipped. The visiting batsmen will rightly be more confident against England’s seamers if there is little cloud cover above or grass below, and a touring squad featuring the spin of the two Ravis – Jadeja and Ashwin, with Kuldeep Yadav available too – may be lethal long before the series reaches The Oval in September. If the skies darken and the rains come, though, it will be very much advantage England.
The Pakistan batsman struck a fluent 125 on day three to help Somerset set a mammoth target of 443 to win for Worcestershire in their second innings.
Azhar scored 125 off just 188 balls with the help of 13 boundaries and two sixes in the second division clash and was the last man dismissed before Somerset declared their second innings at 362-9.
“I’m really happy. It is my first game for Somerset and I’ve been made welcome,” Azhar told Somerset’s website after the match.
“Moeen (Ali) started to turn the ball out of the rough so I thought attacking him early on was the right option because if you are bogged down, they can bring a short leg into play so, I had to go after him to start with,” the Pakistan man said while reflecting on his innings.
“We wanted to score runs as well to be in a position to boss the game. That is why I played positively and it paid off,” explained Azhar, who was eventually dismissed by Moeen Ali himself.
Somerset had signed Azhar recently as a replacement for Matt Renshaw after the Australia opener broke his finger. The opener had been eyeing a deal in county cricket since Pakistan toured England earlier this May for a two-match Test series.
The schedule for the upcoming Asia Cup in the UAE was released by the ICC on Tuesday with the tournament getting underway on September 15 in Dubai.
The biennial tournament will be a six-team affair with India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan as the confirmed teams. The UAE, Oman, Singapore, Nepal, Malaysia and Honk Kong will battle it out among themselves for the remaining spot in the qualifiers.
The 2018 edition will see the tournament revert to a 50-over format after the 2016 competition was a Twenty20 affair. India clinched the 2016 trophy and come into the tournament as the defending champions.
India were originally slated to host the Asia Cup this year but their ongoing political differences with Pakistan has seen the tournament being shifted to the UAE.
It will be the first time India and Pakistan have clashed since the ICC Champions Trophy final in England last year. Bilateral cricketing ties between the two neighbours has been suspended since 2008 with matches between the sides reduced to multi-team tournaments like the World Cup, World Twenty20 and the Asia Cup.
Sept 15 – Bangladesh v Sri Lanka (Dubai)
Sept 16 – Pakistan v Qualifier (Dubai)
Sept 17 – Sri Lanka v Afghanistan (Abu Dhabi)
Sept 18 – India v Qualifier (Dubai)
Sept 19 – India v Pakistan (Dubai)
Sept 20 – Bangladesh v Afghanistan (Abu Dhabi) Super Four
Sept 21 – Group A Winner v Group B Runner-up (Dubai)
Sept 21 – Group B Winner v Group A Runner-up (Abu Dhabi)
Sept 23 – Group A Winner v Group A Runner-up (Dubai)
Sept 23 – Group B Winner v Group B Runner-up (Abu Dhabi)
Sept 25 – Group A Winner v Group B Winner (Dubai)
Sept 26 – Group A Runner-up v Group B Runner-up (Abu Dhabi)
Sept 28 – Final (Dubai)