Three Tests will be played on Thursday at different corners of the world. In England, Australia will be looking to maintain their lead in the Ashes series after a hard-fought draw at Lord’s. Across the Arabian sea, Sri Lanka are on the verge of another memorable Test series win over a major nation; the Kiwis looking to do what South Africa couldn’t earlier in the year.
Meanwhile in the Caribbean, two explosive pace attacks will go head to head when world No1 India look to get the better of West Indies in a two-Test series. It’s the same Windies who stunned England earlier in the year.
Jofra Archer concussed Steve Smith out of Lord’s and now the Leeds Test. Otherwise, all top four Test batsmen in the world would have been in action on Thursday.
Even so, the three who will take the field on Thursday will have a lot of their minds, especially since they are captains as well.
Joe Root is not in a comfortable position, either as batsman or captain. The top-order stroke-player has seen his Test average steadily decline from above 50 to now in the 48s. A change in his back lift has made Root a prime target for lbw and bowled. So there’s that.
Plus almost the entire top six, or seven, of England’s batting line-up is in a constant state of shuffling. No one knows who should bat where and that greatly contributed to a Test series defeat in the Caribbean and now a 1-0 deficit in the Ashes.
Kiwi captain Kane Williamson had a horror Galle Test against Sri Lanka. Not only did he make 0 and four in an ultimately heavy defeat to the hosts, Williamson’s bowling action was also reported after the game.
After the high of an impressive World Cup campaign, the struggles in the first Test would be tough to swallow for the Kiwis. However, the second Test will be played at the P Sara Oval, a quicker pitch which should suit New Zealand’s style of play.
Which leaves us with Virat Kohli and his Indian team who will look to assert their No1 status at the start of their Test Championship. The Windies are a genuine threat at home, as England found out the hard way earlier in the year when they were shot out for 77 during a 2-1 series defeat.
Kohli has his own set of problems, although they are problems of plenty. Old guards Wriddhiman Saha and Ajinkya Rahane are fighting to stay relevant as challengers Rishabh Pant and Rohit Sharma fight for limited seats.
Also, the Windies are guaranteed to test India’s batting resolve on quick surfaces with the help of the extra zippy Dukes balls, like they did against the Englishmen. Since it’s a two-Test series between India and West Indies, 60 points will be on the line for each game, which means even the slightest mistake will set teams back a long way in the championship race.
Root, Williamson and Kohli are icons of our era. All three are truly great batsmen and inspirational captains. They have unique challenges facing them on Thursday. And given their record, you back all three to come up with a winning solution.
Virat Kohli and his men were in imperious form in the preceding limited-overs clashes against the West Indies and they will now hope to add the Test series to their conquests in the Caribbean after their clean sweep in the ODIs and T20s.
It has been quite some time since both teams featured in the five-day format with India’s last assignment coming nearly eight months ago in Australia while Windies’ most recent Test battle came against England at the start of the year.
Hosts take confidence from England win
It might be six months since it happened but Jason Holder and his men will not be short of confidence for the two-match series against India after their memorable win over England at home in February.
It was only the third Test series win for West Indies in over five years and they remain very much a work in progress under the captaincy of Holder. Things are, however, starting to look more promising for the Windies with the emergence of a potent pace unit comprising of Holder, Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach.
The Windies skipper himself has been an inspirational figure with the star all-rounder averaging 51.36 and 13.35 with the bat and ball respectively in the format since the turn of 2018.
The hosts showed tremendous fighting spirit in their triumph over England despite their relative inexperience and they won’t be overawed by an opposition they have now failed to beat for 17 years in the Test format.
Selection conundrum for India
Kohli and the Indian team management have multiple selection headaches ahead of the opening Test but none more so than in the batting department. Question marks hang over who will open the batting for the visitors as well as the composition of the middle-order where Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and Hanuma Vihari are all vying for a place.
Rohit and Vihari could also be in contention to open the innings for India although Mayank Agarwal partnering KL Rahul at the top looks the most likely combination.
Rahane is the batsman under the most pressure to perform with the India vice-captain yet to score a Test century since August, 2017 while Rohit is looking to consolidate a spot in the squad after being given another call-up.
Vihari, meanwhile, has been in good form in India A’s shadow tour of the West Indies and the Hyderabad batsman should get a look-in.
Pant or Saha?
While the make-up of India’s batting order is unclear, they also need to pick one of Rishabh Pant and Wriddhiman Saha.
Chief selector MSK Prasad had declared before the start of the tour that Pant was being groomed as the long-term wicket-keeper across all three formats and the youngster remains the only India wicketkeeper to register overseas Tests tons in Australia and England.
However, there is Saha’s experience to be considered with the Bengal man making a return to the Test setup after spending nearly 18 months on the sidelines with an injury.
The 34-year-old warmed up for the Test series with two half-centuries against West Indies A recently and it will be tough to deny him a spot in the playing XI after what has been an excruciating wait.
West Indies: Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Darren Bravo, Shai Hope, Shimron Hetmyer, Shamarh Brooks, Jason Holder (c), Shane Dowrich (wk), Rahkeem Cornwall, Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach.
India: Mayank Agarwal, Hanuma Vihari, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami.
England batsman Jason Roy has passed a concussion test after being hit in the nets ahead of the third Ashes contest at Headingley.
The 29-year-old was struck by a throw-down from former international Marcus Trescothick, who is working with the team in a temporary capacity, during practice on Tuesday.
Roy was assessed after impact and was able to continue batting, but also required a follow-up check on the eve of the match to determine any delayed symptoms.
Roy will undergo a further check on the morning of the match, the England and Wales Cricket Board indicated, but is now expected to take his place at the top of the order.
The issue of head injuries has become a major talking point in the series after Australia batsman Steve Smith was struck in the neck by a 92mph bouncer from Jofra Archer at Lord’s.
He was subsequently diagnosed with delayed onset concussion, becoming the first Test cricketer to be substituted for the issue, and has also been ruled out of this week’s match.
Roy was not the only player to be hit on the helmet on Tuesday as both sides build their readiness against the short ball, with Marnus Labuschagne – Smith’s replacement in the last match – struck by team-mate Mitchell Marsh.
Provided by Press Association Sports