England are set to start a five-Test series against India on the 25th of January, 2024. That opening match will take place in Hyderabad, with three more to follow in February, in Visakhapatnam, Rajkot and Ranchi. The fifth and final clash of the series is scheduled to take place between the 7th and 11th of March, with Dharamshala the host venue.
If some of these host cities will be new to England fans and even players, the challenge they face will certainly not be. India are second in the ICC Test rankings – behind Australia and ahead of England. They have a quality batting lineup, spearheaded by Virat Kohli, although India’s talisman will miss the first two Tests for personal reasons. Moreover, they boast three of the leading five bowlers in the world, based on the ICC rankings. Two of those triumvirate also feature among the International Cricket Council’s top five all-rounders two, with Ravindra Jadeja and Ravi Ashwin joined by Axar Patel on the all-rounder’s list.
Perhaps more than the strength of their playing squad, however, it is India’s reputation as an unforgiving place to tour that will most concern England supporters, and possibly players, though the latter are less likely to admit it. India is in many ways a developed, modern state and whilst it may not provide all the challenges it used to for visiting Test sides, there is still a great deal to contend with.
This cricket-mad nation has rather fallen out of love with the red-ball format so hostile crowds are not the issue they once were. However, the climate remains a challenge for England but the biggest issue is always the pitches. It remains to be seen what sort of surfaces the hosts prepare but even if they are not as dry, dusty and spin-friendly as some we have seen in the past, they are likely to be low, slow and certainly give India’s array of spin bowlers enough to work with.
So, what of England’s chances? It seems like an age ago that we were revelling in the thrills and frequent spills of Bazball and England’s brave new approach to Test match cricket. A rather fresher memory is that of England failing abjectly to defend their World Cup crown towards the end of 2023. That tournament was held in India too, which hardly helps matters but can England cause an upset using the red ball? Just how good are India at home and can they be beaten?
India’s Record in Home Tests is Formidable
Are India unbeatable? In the sense that they have been beaten on home soil in the past, the answer would have to be no. However, they have won their last 16 Test series in a row in India! That run stretches all the way back to 2012/13 and includes a recent success over Australia. In the past 10 years, they have lost just three out of 40 Tests, frequently inflicting whitewashes on touring parties.
Moreover, the last time England travelled to this part of the world they lost the series 3-1 in 2020/21. That was just a four-match contest, which spared England a little, because before that they lost 4-0 over five games (2016/17). India’s recent home run is simply incredible, although it does rather reflect a wider pattern of home dominance in Tests over the past 10 years or so.
Is there Hope for England?
The most obvious crumb, and it may be exactly that, of comfort for Ben Stokes and his side, is that the last team to leave India victorious was indeed England. It was a rather different team back in 2012/13 but nonetheless, the tourists took a four-match series 2-1, with the final clash in Nagpur a draw that proved good enough for England to make a little bit of history.
England may also draw heart, depending on how the first game goes this time around, from the fact that over a decade ago they were forced to follow on in the opening Test and lost the match by nine wickets. They bounced back superbly though, winning the next two clashes before that crucial draw gave them a hard-fought win.
Jimmy Anderson and Jonny Bairstow are the only survivors from that win, but it was then-captain, Alastair Cook, who was the key man for England. The sometimes-obdurate opener notched three centuries, including a majestic 190, as he was the top scorer on either side with a magnificent tally of 562 runs.
England will take a very different approach this time around and will attack far more but they may well rely on another opener, Zak Crawley to lead the charge. If he is at his best and gets a couple of big scores, and if Joe Root plays spin as well as we know he can, Stokes’ men may just have a chance. Of course, no team is unbeatable, and whilst recent history shows it will be incredibly difficult, under Brendon McCullum, this England team fears nobody.
Head-to-Head Record and Bookies’ Odds
India’s results at home paint a clear picture and this is one the bookmaker’s odds give fully backup. The home side are priced at just 8/15 to win the opening clash and a much shorter 8/13 to land the series overall. In contrast, in those two markets England are 2/1 and 5/2, respectively. The draw in both instances is somewhere around the 9/1 or 5/1 mark but most pundits are predicting India to win at least four of the five clashes.
Taking a wider view of the series, and looking at the overall head-to-head record between the teams may not be too useful due to the huge benefit of playing at home each team has derived over the years. That said, overall England have the upper hand, winning 50 of the 131 Test meetings between the nations. India have won 31 games, with 50 ending in draws.
In India, however, the home side have won 22 times, with the tourists taking the honours just 14 times. In terms of series outcome, on home soil India lead England by 8-5, with three ending level. That too perhaps misleads though, and if we focus solely on the past 25 years, the overall series H-2-H is 5-4 in India’s favour, with three drawn.
One of those draws occurred in the most recent clash between the teams, but that was in England. Looking only at contests in India, over the last quarter of a century, we can see that the hosts are ahead by four wins to one, with one series draw (1-1 in 2005/06). So, India, whilst not unbeatable, are formidable opponents. Our prediction? 4-1 to India – sorry, Stokesy!