Virat Kohli will return to lead India against England in the first Test of the four-match series beginning Friday at the MA Chidambaram Stadium after his deputy Ajinkya Rahane proved his leadership credentials by captaining the side to a memorable 2-1 series win in Australia last month.
Kohli, who returned home after India’s defeat in the first Test in Adelaide to attend the birth of his child, saw from the comforts of his home Rahane leading the Indian team to a fighting win in two of the last three Tests against Australia despite injury issues to Indian team members.
Although Rahane said Kohli is the original captain and his own job is to take a backseat, the series will witness scrutiny on Kohli’s captaincy skills as his deputy has emerged as a viable option.
The new father has, however, got support from his deputy.
“See, my job is to take a back-seat and help Virat. There are too many things on a captain’s mind, so as a vice-captain you have to visualise a situation, think about what can happen in the game, and then if captain asks you for suggestions then you should be ready,” said Rahane on returning to vice-captaincy’s role.
India though will start favourites on a Chennai wicket that is expected to help the spinners sooner or later.
Smarter from the 4-0 series defeat last time, England will start this series on a confident note having beaten Sri Lanka 2-0 in the preceding Test series.
Both batting coach Graham Thorpe and consultant Jonathan Trott had earlier said that England’s plan would be to score big in the first innings and take control of the game.
India, missing the services of ace all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja and speedsters Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav — all of whom are match-winners at home — will rely on pace bowler Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin to lead the bowling attack.
This will also be the first time in over a year that Kohli and Rohit Sharma will be playing together.
The series will also see the return of Hardik Pandya to the Test fold. Pandya had played the ODIs in Australia as a batsman but could not bowl as he wasn’t fit enough to do that.
Kohli had earlier said that Pandya can make the Test team only as an all-rounder. Thus, the forthcoming series will be a test of his all-round skills.
India need to beat England in the Test series by one of the following margins: 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1 or 4-0 to enter the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) final, slated to be played in June at the Lord’s, London.
For England, any of the following margins will guarantee them a place in the final against New Zealand: 3-0, 3-1, 4-0.
India: Virat Kohli (c), Mayank Agarwal, Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Shubman Gill, Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant, Axar Patel, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul, Wriddhiman Saha, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Mohammed Siraj, Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur, Kuldeep Yadav
England: Joe Root (c), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jofra Archer, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Ben Foakes, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dom Sibley, Ben Stokes, Olly Stone, Chris Woakes, Ollie Pope