Former English skipper and wicketkeeper-batsman Alec Stewart believes that the upcoming five-match Test series between the hosts England and the visitors India will be a close contest.
The 55-year-old believes that the two teams are evenly matched and it will be a tight contest.
Stewart said, “I think they are two evenly matched teams. In the past, India haven’t always travelled well and the last time (2014), I wasn’t even sure they wanted to be here. But under Virat’s captaincy, you can see the team replicating his characteristics and personality. They are not only a team of fighters, but of quality as well. They have covered all bases nicely and I think it will be closely fought Test series.”
Stewart revealed that he is a big fan of the Indian off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. While India has the three specialist spinners in the Test squad – Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav – the former English skipper feels Kuldeep has the strong chance to earn a place in the playing XI but need to prove himself with the red ball.
Stewart said, “I am a massive fan of Ashwin and he is an impressive performer. Jadeja has had some good success against England as well. But if someone has got mystery, you might want to play him.
“Virat, as a captain, is very positive and will back an attacking bowler. He will possibly believe that Kuldeep has more to offer than Ashwin or Jadeja, and then that’s the route Virat will take. And then the wrist spinner has to perform, and replicate with the red ball what he has done with the white ball. We won’t know until he is given a go.”
The left-arm chinaman Kuldeep Yadav mostly dominated over the English batsmen during the limited-overs series. But, Stewart believes that Joe Root has shown how to play against the young spinner.
Stewart said, “A mystery spinner creates doubts if you haven’t faced much of him, and it makes for great cricket when the batsmen are trying to figure out from 18-22 yards, which way it will go. But England, especially Joe Root, started to work out Kuldeep since Lord’s and the question is how Kuldeep is going to bowl in Test cricket.”
Stewart feels Kuldeep will face the different challenge in the Test series.
He added, “All of a sudden, he won’t have four men at the boundary. He will have four men around the bat, and the batsmen don’t have to try and score with a positive intent. Can he bowl enough good balls and ask questions of the batsmen as he had done in white-ball cricket?
“In ODIs and T20Is, you can get away with bad balls with batsmen getting caught off full tosses (Eoin Morgan) or sweep slogging caught at deep midwicket (Jason Roy). Would Kuldeep have those fields in a Test? Would batsmen play those types of shots? No, instead, it will be a game of cat and mouse and it remains to be seen if Kuldeep can make those adjustments for Test cricket in England.”
Stewart said anything can happen in the Test series. He believes that the English pacers James Anderson and Stuart Broad can dominate over the Indian batsmen or Indian batsmen can survive against them and put a good total on the board.
Stewart said, “The weather has been predictable, in that it is hot and expected to stay hot. It is why Test cricket is such a beautiful game because we are going into the unknown. Will the ball swing, at all? If it swings, then Anderson and Broad are still as good as they have ever been in the game.
“They will be looking to take wickets, and for England, the new ball will be key. If they can take early wickets and expose the Indian middle order while the ball is still swinging, then England will quickly kill the game. Can England make those early inroads to get in at Virat or anybody else in the middle order while that new ball is still doing something.
“If India can see off those two world-class swing bowlers, then batting will get easier for the middle order as well. That’s the beauty of Test cricket because the game is allowed to evolve over a period of time while the challenge is always there.”