Indians vs Select County XI Preview: Visitors look to consolidate preparations for England Test series
By Devarchit Varma July 20, 2021
For the first time since their chastening defeat against New Zealand in the final of the Cricket World Test Championship, Virat Kohli’s Team India will face a Select County XI at Durham in a three-day tour match starting on Tuesday at Chester-le-Street, to consolidate their preparations for the upcoming five-match Test series against England starting in less than a fortnight.
This tour match was not a part of the itinerary when India left for the UK to play the Cricket WTC final and the five-match Test series, even though they had more than a month break — precisely for 42 days between the conclusion of the WTC summit clash and the start of the Test series in England. However, following their heavy defeat to New Zealand by eight wickets in the final, the team management made a late request to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), who in turn wrote to their counterparts in the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), this tour match was organised.
Since it was a late request made by the Indian team and their board, the ECB, already struggling with issues such as man-management and organising cricket in the UK during the coronavirus pandemic, which also includes launching the first edition of The Hundred — a competition involving both men and women — there are not many known names in the Select County XI.
What the Indian cricketers have been upto…
The Indian cricketers in the UK were enjoying a three-week holiday before they assembled last week in London to leave for Durham for the tour match. Several of them were travelling with their families, exploring the country, whereas there were others such as India head coach Ravi Shastri who was watching the Wimbledon, and the wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant who went on to watch some Euro 2020 action.
While Shastri did have a good time at the Wimbledon, Pant returned a positive coronavirus test in the lead up to the only tour match, due to which he will not be available for selection since he is recovering in London and is not travelling currently with the team in Durham where they will be based for now.
India were further jolted by a report of their support staff member Dayanand Garani testing positive for the coronavirus, which forced his close contacts in Wriddhiman Saha, Abhimanyu Easwaran and bowling coach Bharat Arun. However, all the others tested negative but will not be taking any part in the tour match against the Select County XI.
In the absence of Pant, KL Rahul, a first choice wicketkeeper-batsman in white-ball cricket for India will be donning the gloves for the first time in a First-Class match in his career. Rahul has been with the Indian squad in England as a back-up middle-order batsman despite him being the first choice for opening slot in the other formats. Surprisingly, the uncapped Easwaran is in England as the back-up opener.
Ravichandran Ashwin is the only Indian cricketer who has had red-ball match action in between, since he turned up for Sussex against Somerset in a County Championship contest, a game in which warmed up for the England Test series with a splendid six-wicket haul.
What is the relevance of this tour match?
India have traditionally played at least one tour match before the start of a Test series in England on each of their visits since 2011. The purpose of these tour matches is to help the visiting players acclimatise as well as adjust to local conditions against formidable line-up, without the pressure of forcing result in the contest. The tour matches also help team management to determine who are their best players in the lead-up to the main contests.
But unfortunately, home teams such as England in particular have been fielding extremely deflated and rookie teams in these tour matches in order to not let the visiting teams settled down well and get comfortable since their local conditions are heavily in play. Hence, not surprisingly, the Select County XI which India is going to face will have three players who have not played First-Class cricket yet and plenty of others who are yet to make a mark, along with a few names that are there to be noticed.
James Bracey had a forgettable start to his test career for England against New Zealand earlier in the English summer and he was looking to make a mark against India in this match. However, the wicket-keeper batsman has been ruled out of action due to coming In close contact with a coronavirus positive person. In his place, a 17-year-old James Rew from Somerset will keep the wickets.
Haseeb Hameed, who made a terrific debut against India in the 2016-17 tour, will be facing the Indians once again and all eyes will be on the composite opening batsmen ahead of the Test series.
Have the tour matches helped?
Irrespective of the fact that India have played at least one tour match — in the 2014 tour they even won the warm-up contest against Derbyshire — the practice has had a minimal effect on the outcome or the way Indian teams have performed against England come Test series. The pressure will be firmly back on the Indian team which has lost both the Cricket WTC final as well as the Cricket Test Mace to New Zealand after being the world No 1 side for close to 5 years.
India have lost every single tour of England starting with the one in 2011, in which they were blanked 4-0, in 2014 they were defeated 3-1 and in 2018, despite the fact that the team fought incredibly hard and took some of the matches close, India ended up on the wrong side of the result that read 4-1.
Virat Kohli remains India’s biggest batting hope as the visiting team looks to bounce back after the disaster that transpired against New Zealand in all departments. However, it will not be easy for India to put up a strong show given the fact that their batsmen have traditionally struggled in England, with their best batsman, Kohli, averaging in mid 30s and the next best in Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara clocking under 30 with the bat. Rohit Sharma has played only one Test against England in England and even though Pant and Rahul have a century each from the last tour, the core job of accumulating runs is something that should not be expected from men lower down in the batting order.
Nevertheless, the purpose of the tour match starting on Tuesday will be for the Indians to acclimatise and get ready for the Test series starting August 4 in Trent Bridge, which certainly is one of their biggest challenges with red-ball cricket in recent years.
For a team that came good against all odds in Australia, the confidence should be sky-high going into the next five-Tests which will be another firm test of their character.
SELECT COUNTY XI: Will Rhodes (c), Jack Carson, Craig Miles, Rehan Ahmed, Zak Chappell, Liam-Patterson White, Tom Aspinwall, Haseeb Hameed, James Rew (wk), Ethan Bamber, Lyon James, Rob Yates, James Bracey, Jake Libby.
Devarchit Varma is a cricket writer and journalist with an experience of more than a decade, having worked at Hindustan Times (newspaper) and CricketCountry (website). Along with covering international and domestic cricket, he has also interviewed several current and former top players such as Rohit Sharma, Steve Smith, Dale Steyn, Michael Hussey, Jacques Kallis, Brendon McCullum, Shane Watson, Lasith Malinga and many more. He has also worked in other beats as a journalist in Bollywood (Reliance BigOye) and IT (SiliconIndia) industries.
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