Why Ben Stokes-led England will be a greater threat to India in rescheduled Test

When India toured England last year, they made a highly impressive effort for most of the four matches they featured. But for the Headingley Test, in which they were rolled over for 78 on Day 1, they dominated the series. India began with an impressive draw in Nottingham, took the lead with a famous win at Lord’s and reclaimed the advantage after the Headingley disaster with a 157-run win at The Oval. 2-1 up in the series, India have a great chance of registering their first Test series in the country since 2007. All they need is a draw to achieve that feat. However, many things have changed since India left England’s shores in September last year.

During their previous visit, India were led by Virat Kohli. His struggles with the bat haven’t changed in all these months. Having quit as captain, India will now be led by Rohit Sharma, who is Team India’s all-format captain (when fit and not resting). England, too have a new captain, with Joe Root having given up the role following the team’s Ashes disaster. How big will this significant change play when India meets England in the Birmingham Test?

The Stokes-McCullum impact

On expected lines, seasoned all-rounder Ben Stokes has taken over from Root as the Test captain. And although it is too early to judge his leadership, he has made a statement of intent in the first two Tests against New Zealand, sending a warning signal to Team India. The addition of New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum as England’s Test head coach is an interesting move, and his aggressive approach already has a say on England’s style of play. The Stokes-McCullum combo works in England’s favour because both are extremely positive characters. Of course, the risk-taking element is bound to backfire sometimes, but let’s leave that discussion for another day.

India must be prepared for a very different and much more aggressive England than they faced during the four Tests last year. If we analyze their performances in the first two Tests against New Zealand, England fought back in a rather commanding fashion after it seemed that the Kiwis were in with a genuine chance of winning. After squandering advantageous positions, they recovered to chase down 279 at Lord’s and 299 at Trent Bridge in a rather emphatic fashion. The performance in the second Test was a template of sorts for the kind of cricket we are likely to see England playing consistently under the Stokes-McCullum era.

Root, Bairstow, Stokes – Dangerous trio for India

When India were in England last year, Root was the leading run-getter in the four Tests. He amassed 564 runs in four matches at a stupendous average of 94. He was rooted to the crease like glue. Bizarre as it may sound, the former skipper could be much more dangerous now that he is playing without the pressure of captaincy. The new Root has already appeared in the two Tests against the Kiwis. His sublime hundred guided the team’s chase in the first Test, and his smashing 176 laid the platform for victory in the second. Root is batting with complete freedom, which doesn’t augur well for India.

When India were in England last year, Stokes was on a mental health break while Bairstow struggled for consistency. Both will go into the rescheduled Test against India with much more confidence and positivity. Bairstow played a blinder of a knock in Nottingham while Stokes is enjoying the additional leadership responsibility, at least for now at the start. Unless New Zealand pull off something spectacular at Headingley, England will go into the Test against India with the upper hand. The good news for India is that they only have to play one Test!