England v India -- three key battles
Birmingham (United Kingdom) (AFP)
England and India begin an eagerly-anticipated five-match contest with what will be England's 1,000th men's Test of all time at Edgbaston on Wednesday.
Here, AFP Sport looks at three key battles that could shape the course of an intriguing series.
Root v Kohli
'If you want to know the state of the fish, look at its head' runs the old proverb and that can apply to cricket teams as well.
England captain Joe Root and India skipper Virat Kohli are two of the world's leading batsmen and their ability to inspire team-mates rests largely on their ability to lead from the front through weight of runs rather than exceptional tactical ability in the field.
Both men will have a point to prove with the bat this series.
Root has converted only three out of 23 fifties since his Test-best 254 against Pakistan in 2016 into hundreds -- a poor return for a player of his class -- while Kohli is looking to improve his record in England after scoring just 134 runs in five Tests on his maiden tour of the country four years ago.
If either man has an impressive series, the chances are it will mean their team have big scores on the board and are in the ascendant.
Rashid v Ashwin
A prolonged period of hot weather and the ensuing dry pitches mean spin bowlers could have a greater influence on a Test series in England than is often the case.
India off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin is a proven world-class bowler with 316 Test wickets at 25.34 but just three of those wickets have been taken in England.
There have been suggestions that left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav should be picked as India's lone specialist slow bowler on the back of his one-day form, although former captain Mohammad Azharuddin has urged the tourists to play two spinners.
If Ashwin does start, however, India will look to him for control as a gruelling schedule of five matches in six weeks could well take its toll on the fast bowlers, with the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah already injured.
England will want the same from leg-spinner Adil Rashid, who has been recalled for his 11th Test but first at home. His selection has proved controversial given he has not been playing red-ball cricket, with Rashid dragged into an ugly spat with former England captain Michael Vaughan.
It will be fascinating to see if Rashid can put the row behind him, especially as the only spin support he is set to receive at Edgbaston will come from Yorkshire team-mate Root's occasional off-breaks.
Bairstow v Karthik
Jonny Bairstow is one of the leading wicketkeeper-batsmen in world cricket today, averaging nearly 40 in Tests and with five hundreds at this level to his name. He has frequently bailed England out of the trouble with the bat and become increasingly assured with the gloves -- which could be particularly important in backing up the spinners if the slow bowlers find themselves bowling long spells.
Certainly if Bairstow struggles in either department it will be a blow to England.
His India opposite number Dinesh Karthik has spent much of his career in the shadow of MS Dhoni, with the 33-year-old's 24 Tests spread over a period of 14 years.
It is asking a lot for Karthik, who averages 27.13 in Tests, to match Bairstow with the bat but a strong display behind the stumps would strengthen India's bid for a series win.
© 2018 AFP