James Anderson celebrates the dismissal of MS Dhoni during India's 2011 tour of England. (AFP Photo)
India haven't won an overseas Test for three years; England were humiliated in Ashes 5-0. India have gone 14 matches without a win on foreign soil; England lost to Sri Lanka in their last home Test series. India were whitewashed 4-0 on their last England tour; England then beat India in India as well. The pressure on both the teams is evident, and the fire of revenge within India is raging.
The effect is bound to show on the field, with a few words being exchanged and tempers flaying on the field, where key small battles are sure to spice the series up. Here are some of them:
Virat Kohli vs James Anderson: These are two of the brightest stars in either side. Kohli, who has been synonymous to runs of late, has a chance through this series to leave an indelible mark on Indian cricket and take total control on all fronts - skill, success and temperament. England bowlers, led by India's 2011 wrecker-in-chief Anderson, will make an extra effort to get under Kohli's skin as the Indian batsman is known to get roughed up when poked. However, on this tour, as a senior member of the squad, Kohli will have to channel his aggression in a way that it works to the team's advantage and not becomes a disadvantage.
Alastair Cook vs Bhuvneshwar Kumar: The England skipper and opening batsman is century-less in the last 24 Test innings despite having an enviable Test record, including 25 hundreds in 104 Tests at just the age of 25. Meanwhile, Bhuvneshwar, playing his first Test in England, knows how to swing openers out. And if the Indian new-ball bowler manages to cook Cook, the noose will tighten over the home-team's captain and dent the psyche of a team with an under-performing leader.
Ian Bell vs Ishant Sharma: There will be equal amount of pressure on both the parties involved here. Bell is short of runs and Ishant struggling for consistency. The Indian speedster, having an experience of 55 Tests under his belt, is the leader of a young and inexperienced pace attack where none of his fellow bowlers have ever featured in a Test in England. He will surely want to set an example while Bell will come out to convert his shadow practice into runs after a barren series against Australia and Sri Lanka.
Moeen Ali vs Ravindra Jadeja: The Indian left-arm spinner is expected to get a nod ahead of offspinner R Ashwin for the first Test, with India unlikely to go in with two spinners. On the other hand, Moeen Ali is the new-found stability in the England middle order, especially after his fighting hundred against Sri Lanka, though in a lost cause. Jadeja should have a roughed up ball to bowl on the brown-tinged Trent Bridge track by the time Ali strides in, unless the Indian seamers run through the English line-up. But it will be interesting to see if Jadeja can breach Ali's seeming unflappable concentration with his nagging line and length.
MS Dhoni vs Stuart Broad: The Indian skipper is on a redemption tour of sorts, trying to overturn the 2011 rout on what could possibly be his last England tour. Ravi Shastri has suggested that Dhoni should bat at No. 6, which should happen in any case if India opt to play with five specialist bowlers. That, in fact, will make Dhoni's role with the bat even more important, and he will be keen to turn it on, though his batting success in Tests is nowhere near to what it is in limited-overs cricket. Broad, who has also been short on confidence and wickets of late, will try to work on the pressure Dhoni is in, while getting himself back into top bowling form.