Here, Press Association Sport looks at the key issues.
THE STOKES EFFECT
It would be fanciful to think England’s cricketers will be distracted by events at Bristol Crown Court, huddling anxiously around a screen to hear the latest dispatches from Ben Stokes‘ affray trial. His absence from the side does have the ability to destabilise the team, though. As he proved on the final morning in Birmingham, the Durham man is a cricketer desperate to be involved in the pivotal moments and the Ashes proved how crucial his all-round skill-set can be. There is no like-for-like replacement available so everyone will have to take their share of the water.
POPE ON THE FAST TRACK
The swift promotion of Surrey’s latest prodigy, Ollie Pope, to the international arena represents Ed Smith’s most radical act in the selection hot seat. Those who have seen him in full flow – a relatively slender number given he has played a grand total of 15 first-class matches – purr at his fluency at the crease but this is a serious ask. He is pegged to bat number four, despite regularly coming in two places lower for his county, and the intensity of the occasion is sure to be step up. But in shelving the experienced Dawid Malan for a 20-year-old rookie, England are making a conscious effort to future-proof their middle-order.
SPIN IT TO WIN IT
It came as something of a surprise to see both sides field solitary spinners in the series opener, particularly after England’s long, hot summer. With Ravichandran Ashwin enjoying great success last time out India will surely be minded to fall back on an extra tweaker at Lord’s and have Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav both waiting in the wings. England face a trickier balancing act. They have the option of slotting Moeen Ali in as Stokes’ stand-in, and he would provide some dependable off-spin overs, but Chris Woakes has also been drafted into the squad and he comes closer than anyone to maintaining the match-winning formula.
ROOT’S UNLUCKY 13
England captain Joe Root‘s consistent ability to churn out half-centuries is as admirable as his inclination to falter before three figures is frustrating. Nobody is more aware of his modest conversion rate than the skipper, who has frequently spoken of his desire to become more ruthless when he is set. He has waited almost a year, and 22 innings, to go from 13 to 14 Test tons and a ground where he already has three entries on the honours board could be the perfect place to put that right.
CAN PUJARA BE KOHLI’S FOIL?
Kohli must wonder what more he can do after reeling off 200 runs in a losing cause. The answer is, not a lot, but the same is not true for his top-order colleagues. India badly need somebody to knuckle down and chip in with a major contribution and the most likely candidate could be the man who sat out at Edgbaston. Cheteshwar Pujara made a good decision in signing for Yorkshire to acclimatise to English conditions but his lack of red-ball form in that stint ultimately counted against him. Yet he still averages over 50 in Test cricket – considerably more than Murali Vijay or Shikhar Dhawan – and looks ripe for a recall.
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