Alastair Cook faces make or break India series

The time is now for Alastair Cook, both with the bat and the mind.
The time is now for Alastair Cook, both with the bat and the mind.
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It has not been the best summer so far for Alastair Cook and this India series will either be the making of him as England captain or will be the end of his time in charge writes Alex Johnson.

History is on Cook's side, however, as England have generally dominated the Asians on their own patch and a 4-0 thrashing of Dhoni's men three years ago propelled them to the top of the Test rankings.

England are set to take on India over five Tests this summer in what could be a defining moment in the career of skipper Alastair Cook.

Already under pressure after the 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Australia last winter, the 29-year-old has had to straight bat further calls to step down after England contrived to lose 1-0 to Sri Lanka earlier this summer.

He has been constantly backed by the ECB but it is not guaranteed that he will keep his job if the hosts slip behind early in the series with MS Dhoni's men.

History is on Cook's side, however, as England have generally dominated the Asians on their own patch and a 4-0 thrashing of Dhoni's men three years ago propelled them to the top of the Test rankings.

It is to the youngsters that England will turn to try and arrest a sequence of eight Tests without a win.

Joe Root has now come of age and big things are expected of the Yorkshireman in the upcoming five Tests, while Gary Ballance, Sam Robson and Moeen Ali have all overcome the hurdle of reaching three figures early in their five-day careers.

The challenge now is to push on and, combined with the experience of Cook, Bell and a rejuvenated Matt Prior, the young batsmen need to score enough runs to give the bowlers time to take 20 wickets - something that has rarely happened during the recent slump.

Bowling the Indians out twice will be easier said than done, with no class spinner in the England side after Swann's retirement. Moeen Ali and Root can do a job but it was Swann who matched the India spinners in recent contests.

James Anderson will again be the main man for England and the Lancastrian has enjoyed great success over the Indians in previous series.

The sub-continental stars are known to have a weakness against the swinging ball, and there is no-one better than the Burnley Express to exploit their shortcomings.

Stuart Broad needs to step up and prove that he still has what it takes at the top level, while Chris Jordan's star continues to shine and, if England go with four seamers, the Sussex man will provide solid back-up. Ben Stokes is back in the squad and may come in for Jordan - the Durham man would certainly add a bit of life to the side.

India themselves are in need of a series success having lost their last two contests to New Zealand and South Africa.

While a series with the Proteas is always difficult, the manner in which the Black Caps put an inexperienced India side to the sword in February will have been worrying for the selectors, with Dhoni also under pressure to produce results.

It is true that the side is still in transition from the glory years of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, but young stars have emerged and in Virat Kohli, the visitors have a batsman who appears ready to convert his stellar one-day form to the Test arena.

Gautam Gambhir is back in the fray after a few series in the wilderness and, if selected, will provide experience at the top of the order, with Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara all talented batsmen but not used to English conditions.

Dhoni could do with some runs himself as he has not scored a Test century for nearly 18 months and, if early wickets do fall, the captain will be needed to hold things together down the order.

The 33-year-old has done that successfully over the years but it is the way in which he marshals his bowlers that will be equally as important.

Unpredictable paceman Ishant Sharma will need to step up in the absence of the injured and ageing Zaheer Khan, while Mohammed Shami must hit the ground running, with the uncapped trio of Pankaj Singh, Ishwar Pandey and Stuart Binny and the inexperienced Bhuvneshwar Kumar acting as back-up.

Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will provide the spin threat and, with the way the Sri Lankan slow bowlers generally had their way with England's batsmen just a few weeks ago, could get through a significant number of overs.

In conclusion, this looks set to be an intriguing series, with two well-matched teams trying to find their way again in the longest version of the game.

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