It’s time for our editorial team to put their necks on the line again…
WHO’S GOING TO WIN AND WHAT’S THE SCORE GOING TO BE?
Phil Walker: 3-1 India. At home on pitches primed for filth and mischief India have won 12 of their last 13 Tests. They’re 1/50 with the bookies. Ashwin’s unstoppable, Jadeja sticks it to the English, the keeper Saha is brilliant, and mad Virat’s desperate to nail the one team he’s yet to crack. In Anderson and Wood, meanwhile, England are missing their two best quicks for these conditions and they don’t know their best team. But I’m still giving them one Test at least, and maybe two – their gambler’s instinct will pay off at least once, and there’s no way Stokes and Root are playing five Tests in a row and losing them all.
John Stern: India 3-2. There have been three drawn Tests in India out of 32 in the last seven years it’s hard to imagine how one will occur in this series unless Alastair Cook gets into Abu Dhabi mode. I’d expect at least one of those England wins to come at the end of the series so the overall scoreline may flatter them.
Phil Oliver: 3-1 India. England are underdogs for very good reason but will create opportunities to expose a far from infallible India team. Expectations of five raging turners could be misplaced, especially as Rajkot and Visakhapatnam are new Test venues. These grounds will want to make a good impression and could give the visitors a foot in the door with more benign conditions than England fear.
Ed Kemp: 3-2 India. They are the better side for the series at hand. But they have their own frailties – Ashwin carries a substantial burden and their batting line-up, while full of talent, is as capable of collapses as the next. England are surprising. They’ll get hammered sometimes, for sure. But they’ll occasionally do something magnificent.
Jo Harman: England need to win one of the first two Tests or this could get very messy indeed. Batting deep is great but if their top order continues to struggle as it did in Bangladesh then it’s hard to see anything but a whitewash. I’m expecting the Bangladeshi experience to stand this young team in good stead, though, and they’ve got the match-winners to spring a surprise or two, albeit a repeat of 2012 seems a stretch. I’m going 3-2 India.
Henry Cowen: I worry, I do. Bangladesh was concerning, specifically our ability to play the spinning ball. I’m going to say 5-0 India, but with the caveat that I thought that would happen in 2012 and it was a different story.
WHO WILL SCORE THE MOST RUNS?
JS: Alastair Cook. He’s done it before and he can do it again, now that he’s got the toing and froing from Bangladesh out of his system. And he’s got all the DRS experience that his opposite number doesn’t have.
JH: The focus will inevitably be on Kohli and Root, but Ajinkya Rahane is a class act and I can see him putting England’s spinners through the shredder. He’s averaging mid-80s for 2016, has a temperament reminiscent of Dravid and plays Test cricket as we used to know it. We’ll be seeing a lot of him this winter.
PO: Ajinkya Rahane. It is hard to look past Virat Kohli and a whitewash is realistic if Alastair Cook and Joe Root aren’t in contention here. However, Kohli’s burning desire to lead from the front could affect his decision-making at the crease and England have a better idea than most on how to tame him. Rahane is composed, technically sound and, with four centuries in his last 12 Test innings, is in prime form.
HC: I’d love it to be Cook or Root – I think England need it to be Cook or Root – but, and I know it’s obvious, it just feels like Virat Kohli’s time to really shine in whites.
EK: Top-scoring in this series after a below-par patch seems like just the kind of thing Alastair Cook would do.
PW: Cheteshwar Pujara. Superb against England last time – particularly that Mumbai masterwork – and bang in form. Runs against New Zealand last time out – a ton and three fifties in six knocks from No.3 – allied to more of his standard domestic dominance (averages 58; likes a triple) makes Pujara my pick for top runs on either side. For England, it’s Root. Always Root. Though I quite like a bit of each-way Moeen at 14/1.
WHO’LL TAKE THE MOST WICKETS?
HC: Have to go with Ravi Ashwin. That said, I expect Moeen to pick up a few and Ben Stokes’ displays in Bangladesh point to a man ready to burst through with the ball.
JH: Given his recent form it seems contrary to say anyone but Ravi Ashwin but Ravindra Jadeja has an even better average in home matches than his spin partner, taking his wickets at 17 compared to Ashwin’s 20. The left-armer doesn’t spin it much, relying on natural variation rather than any great turn, but he’s a master of the conditions; and while India’s batsmen may view the introduction of DRS with some trepidation, there’ll be very few complaints coming from his corner. With England understandably focusing much of their attention on Ashwin, I’m backing Jadeja to sneak in the back door.
PW: I fancy England to keep Ravi Ashwin relatively in check (as they did so well last time), but he’ll still take the most wickets on either side. After him, Moeen Ali. He bowled beautifully in the first innings at Dhaka, driving his off-break into the pitch with the confidence that comes from knowing you’re the main man, and despite the preponderance of right-handers in India’s line-up I still reckon he’ll be England’s best option.
JS: Ravi Ashwin. Hard to look beyond the world’s form bowler and you’d imagine that the introduction of DRS will only assist him.
PO: Ravi Ashwin averages nearly 15 runs more against England (49.3) than anyone else. How much that oddity changes is a key factor in this series and while he at times looked lost on how to endanger Cook in 2012, the world’s best spinner is now at the peak of his powers.
EK: A defining series for the substantially underrated and ever-improving off-spin of Moeen Ali.
WHO’S GOING TO BE THE SURPRISE PACKAGE?
EK: Given the likely travails of England’s batsmen over as many as five Tests, Haseeb Hameed will presumably get a go at some stage, and conduct himself with the precocious calm of Root 2012.
JS: England’s pace attack. It probably won’t be enough to win the series but hopefully they have realised that picking spinners for the sake of it is self-defeating. England have enough (lower-order batting) to pick their best all-conditions attack and rotate them. If that means fighting dust with fire then so be it.
JH: To throw Jos Buttler into a Test series against the world’s No.1 side in their own backyard having played one first-class match in the past 12 months might seem foolhardy, or simply stupid, and the England brains trust may yet decide that Hameed is the more prudent choice to replace Ballance. But it’s a tantalising option. Buttler has insisted that if and when he returns he will play his natural game rather than getting bogged down as he did before he was dropped last winter in the UAE. An hour of Buttler at full tilt in a low-scoring affair could be the difference between winning and losing.
PO: Murali Vijay. An established opener with 42 Tests, but India have so many batting threats that a player who has been surprisingly inconsistent at home could thrive out of the spotlight. He has hit three tons in India against Australia, but has none against other tourists. This will surely change in the coming weeks.
HC: If Karun Nair plays I expect him to score runs, another off the terrifying Indian production line and Dravid’s a big fan. Enough for me. If he doesn’t get a go, the story may be Gareth Batty’s miserly return. I think his single Test in Bangladesh will have shown him enough. I don’t expect him to take wicket after wicket, but he could play a huge role as Cook’s control man.
PW: Jake Ball. I like this lad a lot. If England go in with four seamers for that first Test, as seems distinctly possible, I’d like to see him given his head as one of them. I think he’s got the tools to take wickets out there.
WHAT’S GOING TO BE THE BIG STORY OF THE SERIES?
JH: DRS. Just imagine the mayhem when Virat Kohli is given out on review to a ball that for all the world looked like it was missing leg stump. Twitter might just explode.
EK: I’m preparing myself emotionally (call it a defence mechanism) for a depressing long-term injury to Ben Stokes rendering his bowling never-the-same-again.
PW: A winless spirit-sapping slog through India’s backwaters punctuated by crackly Skype calls back to his young family could bring about the end of Alastair Cook’s time as England’s Test captain.
JS: The schedule of England’s winter. Already some chuntering in Bangladesh and you can bet that if it doesn’t go well in India, there’ll be plenty more. Not from the players – at least in public – but Trevor Bayliss probably won’t hold his tongue. Thing is, these tours are schedule are so far in advanced, and they are repricocal, you can’t simply have a pop at Andrew Strauss for agreeing to it.
HC: The end of Alastair Cook’s England captaincy and/or some Stokes-related drama.
PO: Anything other than an England series win will prompt serious questions about their onerous schedule: they are underprepared and have a busy winter and 2017 ahead of them. This is part of a bigger picture in Test cricket. Away wins aren’t as rare as is commonly believed – they have increased in proportion in each of the last three decades – but the system makes whitewashes like India’s against South Africa last year ever more likely.