CHENNAI: Acclimatisation wise, India haven't had this sort of luxury in ages. By the time they take the field at Trent Bridge on Wednesday, it would be more than two months since they set foot on English soil. A World Test Championship final and a two-week rest period, followed by a practice match and week-long training sessions, they enter the Pataudi Trophy on equal footing just like how it was in 2018.
A lot has changed since that 4-1 series defeat. The insecurities that a lot of players felt on that tour thanks to chopping and changing has disappeared. They have all their best bowlers available and fit. Yet, there is one test that they are yet to pass and not until the first of the five Tests ends, will we have an answer to it. Batting has been India's biggest undoing in each of their previous three tours and the current batting unit was very much at the forefront of the last two. Since settling as a unit, more so under the first cycle of the WTC, they have rarely repeated mistakes and have shown an admirable capability to bounce back from setbacks. It has been seen everywhere, except in two countries -- New Zealand and England.
Apart from encountering similar conditions in these places, these two teams, unlike most others, also happen to have a strong fifth bowler. With the bowlers always in the game on pitches that favour seam movement, in addition to the added tooth in the bowling, batsmen invariably start on the backfoot. It is even more challenging in England where one of the game's greatest new ball pairs — James Anderson and Stuart Broad — make it incredibly hard for visiting teams by making early inroads. It means that the middle-order is under pressure from the outset more often than not.
During the last tour and following the debacle in the WTC final against New Zealand, captain Virat Kohli wanted his batsmen to take more risks to keep the scoreboard ticking. It is a philosophy that the rest of the batting unit is yet to buy into. Even if they do, it is going to be even more difficult to execute against a potent attack in a series that will be played with the most lethal red cherry around — the Dukes.
This means India's openers have a huge task at hand. This will be the first time Rohit Sharma will open in England and with Mayank Agarwal ruled out, KL Rahul is all set to play at the top.
"England is a challenging place for batsmen. Every batsman has different plans and methods. And we back every individual to back their own methods rather than focusing on technique and anything else. So playing as a group, communication will be key. Individually, everyone should back their own methods because conditions change here very quickly. All it takes is 15-20 minutes...the sun will be out and very soon it will get overcast. It is all about getting used to the conditions quickly and reading them by backing your own methods. And we as a batting unit are ready for it," vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane said.
In a series where it could boil down to contributions from the lower order -- it was the difference between the two teams in 2018 -- India are not looking to give away easy runs and are ready to continue with their five-bowler theory. But the question is what the combination will be. With the pitch expected to remain green, off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin is likely to take the lone spinner's slot thanks to his impressive showing in Australia, WTC final and in the lone County match, he played for Surrey.
Although this would weaken their lower-order, India are looking at Shardul Thakur as an option, as he is capable of making valuable contributions with the bat at No 8. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami are certainties to start alongside Mohammed Siraj.