Morning everyone and welcome to a contest that is crying out to be a the answer to a quiz question. Albeit one that takes a bit of careful wording. Which Test-series decider took place in a different season from the series it was deciding? With different captains and coaches on both sides?
It’s a bit like the bacon-and-egg ice cream that Heston Blumenthal once came up with: weird but mouthwatering. We’ve seen Joe Root and Virat Kohli going out to the toss often enough. It’s time for Ben Stokes and … Jasprit Bumrah!
Rohit Sharma, India’s new Test captain, has sadly gone down with Covid, which is bad news for connoisseurs of old-school Test opening but intriguing news for students of sporting strategy. Stokes captains just the way he plays, a man on a mission to make things happen. If Bumrah turns out to be that sort of captain too, this Test could be over by tomorrow night.
For Stokes, it is his first game in this series. For England, it is almost certainly the first time they have ever had back-to-back Tests against different opponents. It could have been a nightmare, but after acing all those chases against New Zealand they have the momentum.
They also have home advantage: the game is at Edgbaston, where they have beaten India in six Tests out of seven (and never lost to them). Hell, England even have a settled squad, albeit because Stokes and Brendon McCullum are bending over backwards to show faith in their opening batters, Alex Lees and Zak Crawley.
The Indians could be caught cold, as they were last summer, when they were beaten to the World Test Championship by New Zealand. But they have the lead in the series (2-1) and most of the superstars on the scorecard: the resurgent Cheteshwar Pujara, the buccaneering Rishabh Pant, the wily Ravi Ashwin, the tireless Mohammed Shami, the stump-smashing Bumrah and the wounded Kohli, who surely has a big score in his back pocket. On this ground, three years ago, he made a masterly 149 and 51 and still ended up on the losing side because of the will to win shown by England’s allrounders, Stokes and Sam Curran.
If today’s captains are birds of a feather, the coaches are a study in contrasts. Brendon McCullum treats a day at the Test like a trip to a funfair. Rahul David sees it more as a day in the library – a time for diligence and sobriety, with fun as an occasional bonus. It’s a clash of cultures that could make for a cracker.
Play is due to start early throughout the match – at 10.30am UK time, 1pm in India. I’ll be back 25 minutes before that with news of the toss. Will any captain fancy batting first against Stokes’s England? We shall see.