‘Melancholy were the sounds on a winter’s night.’ Now, now Virginia, let’s not start on that path. Good morning and the warmest of welcomes to our live blog of day one of the first Test between India and England from Hyderabad. Ben Stokes, the inspirational captain, starts his toughest assignment yet, hoping to emulate Douglas Jardine, Tony Greig, David Gower and Alastair Cook in leading England to victory over India in India and is having to do so without Harry Brook and, having applauded into retirement two vital members of the side that fought back so forcefully to square the Ashes series in July, Stuart Broad and Moeen Ali. No Compton-Miller medal winner either, Chris Woakes having wisely been conserved for home Tests only from now on.
A six-month break between Tests is a proper four-decade throwback but so many of the side were involved either at the World Cup or the subsequent Caribbean tours that they will not be as refreshed as their counterparts from 1981’s New Year tour of the West Indies, say, but they have been rejuvenated by Stokes’ surgery and the return of Jack Leach who looks positively ripped after hitting the weights to militate against further back injuries. Jimmy Anderson, too, who has taken 34 wickets at 29.32 across five tours of India, has a new spring in his step, a quicker approach to the wicket and a determination to rage, rage against the dying of the light.
India have a formidable home record, undefeated in a series since Cook’s side, by virtue of the captain, Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, turned the tour around to win 2-1 in 2012. Joe Root, who made his debut in that series, Jonny Bairstow and Anderson all played 11 years ago and are likely to be in the XI while India have just lost Virat Kohli but can still call on Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandan Ashwin from 2012 veteran stock.
Two of the trio, Ashwin (27 wickets) and Jadeja (15) have had field days in the four Tests played at Hyderabad and although the most recent was in 2018, we can expect the pitch to be pretty similar. Intriguingly, both Kohli and Pujara have made double centuries at Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium but so has a certain Brendon McCullum during New Zealand’s draw there in 2012.
Touring India has been a hiding to nothing for all sides over the past 12 years but England, at least, will attack it as a hit to nothing given how overwhelmed they were when besieged by spin on raging turners in 2016-17 and 2020-21. Their novel, thrilling approach to their tour of Pakistan last winter will guide them here too, but one word of warning: Pakistan pitches are bowlers’ graveyards in the absence of reverse swing. India’s Test pitches are anything but even if one hopes they will degrade over five days to make it a compelling contest between bat and ball rather than ragging square from day one.
The toss is imminent and batting first would be the orthodox … and most prudent choice.