Burns Eye View

India and 1000 Test matches

England versus India is one of the most eagerly-awaited Test series in world cricket today. Due to England’s rare successes on the sub-continent under David Gower in 1985, and under Alastair Cook in 2012, the credibility of English cricket is high among the passionate and knowledgable followers of the game in India.

And, when India was in their pomp in 2011, Andrew Strauss’s men found a way through the gold-plated top order of India’s legendary batsmen to win the Test series 4-0. Even with Sachin Tendulkar in their team, India was found wanting.

Sachin failed to make a century again at Lord’s, but Rahul Dravid revealed his class throughout the summer with 461 runs in the series. But it was England’s Kevin Pietersen with 566 runs who led the way among the batsmen. Stuart Broad was the stand-out bowler on both sides with 25 wickets.

The 2011 home series win revealed a rare level of dominance in England’s cricket, and set a new benchmark for England teams. And with two of their players still in the current team (James Anderson and Alastair Cook), England will fancy their chances against Virat Kohli’s men in this hot, dry summer of 2018.

Great Indian players like Virender Sehwag was often vulnerable against the moving ball in English conditions, while Virat Kohli has looked a relative novice against swing and seam movement too often for a player of his ilk. Top-class players should be able to excel against all opposition in a variety of conditions.

Captain Kohli has put himself under pressure by openly stating his ambition of ‘needing to succeed’ this summer. My sense is that his passionate style of captaincy could easily overflow into contempt and anger if his team doesn’t perform to their capability and if his own game doesn’t reflect his global superstar status. He may be hero-worshipped in India, but in England, he will need to do more than just play well if he is to be remembered among the great players to tour UK. In the summer of 1976, the dry brown outfields helped Viv Richards announce himself to the world as the next great player. And, in 1989, Steve Waugh showed the cricketing world that he had matured and was now ready to become a truly great player. Will Kohli touch such heights this summer?

One thing which will make a difference to this series is the court case involving Ben Stokes. If found not guilty of the charges brought against him, Stokes will more than likely play with a rare sense of freedom after a long and challenging period of time under close scrutiny. He has brought a burgeoning career to a temporary halt but good news from the courts may see England’s talisman play cricket from the gods in the late summer of 2018. Without him, England look vulnerable as a team.

England’s stock of quality spin bowlers is low, and their batting remains highly questionable against proper Test match bowling. There is a doubt about the opening batsmen, a doubt about the captain’s credentials as a leader of men, there is a doubt about who can replace the ageing Broad and Anderson when they eventually experience terminal decline as test match opening bowlers, and there remains a doubt over Dawid Malan’s capability to fill the middle order spot. Malan’s form for Middlesex has been as woeful as Middlesex’s team performance, so I think there may be a question mark over whether he will make the final XI when new national Selector Ed Smith names his Test squad for Edgbaston.

Personally, I would stick with Malan, for now. I think he is a stubborn determined batsman, who could play the off-spin bowling of Ravi Ashwin with the required touch and good judgment. Others may struggle, but I sense Malan could be a key performer against the Indian spinner. His challenge will be to get through the early overs against the harder ball when he first comes to the wicket. This will be more pertinent if Keaton Jennings and Alastair Cook don’t get England off to consistently solid starts – this means in every innings in each of the five test matches.

England’s batting looks too vulnerable for my liking, but I hope I am proved wrong, and that Keaton Jennings proves to be the successful opening batsman that England craves as a partner to Alastair Cook.

Despite my allegiance to England, my professional judgment lends itself to predicting an Indian victory 3-1. Unless Virat Kohli has a poor series, which may make them anxious as a team, I reckon the dry pitches and hot weather will suit most their players far more than if they were touring in May/June/July.

And, on another note, I see that the 1st Test at Edgbaston will be England’s 1000th Test match. What a milestone!

Some genuinely world-class players have graced the game for England in the time it has taken to play 1000 Tests, and hard though it is to pick an all-time XI, I have had some fun having a go at selecting players for an England Test team from players that I played with or against doing my professional career between 1983-2003.

Here is my XI:

Graham Gooch; Alec Stewart w/k; David Gower; Allan Lamb; Kevin Pietersen; Andrew Flintoff; Ian Botham; Graeme Swann; James Anderson; Derek Underwood; Devon Malcolm. Hard to leave out Dennis Amiss, Graham Thorpe and Robin Smith (possibly for Allan Lamb). But, a nice mix of attacking batsmen (no blockers, may need one to counter-balance the flair!) and plenty of variety with the ball. Raw pace from 'Big Dev', skill and subtlety from Bedser and Anderson. Conventional swing and reverse swing from Botham and Flintoff.

And, here's a stab at selecting my all-time XI to play against them (excluding the above names) - Jack Hobbs; Herbert Sutcliffe; Walter Hammond; Tom Graveney; Denis Compton; Tony Greig; Alan Knott w/k; Fred Trueman; Alec Bedser; Jim Laker; Frank Tyson.

Hard to leave out Peter May, Colin Cowdrey, Ken Barrington but went for 'Uncle Tom' ( I am biased because he was very good to me, many times, during my career!) Ted Dexter (possibly in for Greig), Brian Statham (possibly for Bedser) John Snow, and Bob Willis (possibly in for Frank Tyson).

One of the many wonderful aspects of cricket, is the diversity of opinions that the game generates base don individual preferences of style and personality.

Perhaps you may like to have a go too? What’s your all-time England XI?

All the best for your selection meeting... And, let’s hope we can find another Jim Laker or a Frank Tyson to serve England well this summer, and in future years . In my years of following top-level cricket, I have rarely seen teams excel home and away without a top-class spinner and a genuinely fast bowler in their armoury.

Neil Burns


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