India’s last home series defeat came against a gritty and well-prepared England back in 2012-13. Since then, India have won 11 consecutive Test series at home (a record) and lost just 1 Test match out of 34 matches played. This is sheer dominance in Test cricket at home.
The Virat Kohli-led side has subjugated every touring side in this period with 28 wins and 5 draws, two of which were rain-affected. 12 of the 28 wins were by an innings, seven by 150-plus runs, and four by 8 wickets or more. Given the dominance, it will require a dream team to even put up a fight.
Here we look at the best possible Test XI from currently active players who can challenge India at home (players picked on basis of recent form and ability to excel in the subcontinent):
Openers: Dimuth Karunaratne and Tom Latham (wk)
Dimuth Karunaratne has been one of the most consistent openers in the world over the last couple of years, with an average of 40.75 since the start of 2017. Moreover, with the experience of playing most of his life in the subcontinent, the Lankan opener is the perfect fit for the opening slot.
Tom Latham has been quite underrated throughout his career. But the Kiwi opener is finally starting to gain attention over the last couple of years, averaging 58.03 since the start of 2017. With his ability to handle spin well evident from his record in the subcontinent, Latham is an automatic choice. Moreover, he is the wicket-keeper for the side.
Other potential options: Dean Elgar, David Warner, Azhar Ali
Middle Order: Kane Williamson (c), Steven Smith, Joe Root
With an average of 51.25 in Asia since the beginning of 2017, New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson has been unarguably one of the best overseas batsmen in Asia in recent years. An automatic choice for the number three slot, Williamson is also the best option available to lead the side.
Widely regarded as one of the best batsmen of this era in Test cricket, Steve Smith was one of the key architects of India’s lone defeat in the last 34 home games. Scoring one of his most fighting hundreds in Pune, Smith has always been a thorn in the flesh for India irrespective of the conditions. Averaging above 48 in Asia and 60 in India, Steve Smith is the ideal number four for the side.
English skipper Joe Root averages a staggering 46.07 in Asia and 53.09 in India. His debut hundred at Nagpur still ranks as one of his finest hundreds. Root’s superb show with the bat in the recently concluded South Africa and New Zealand tours is a testament to his form and temperament.
Other potential options – Quinton de Kock, Ross Taylor, Henry Nichols
All-rounders: Ben Stokes, Shakib Al Hasan
A big-match player with a knack of delivering his best under pressure, Ben Stokes is the finest seam-bowling all-rounder of this era. Having a terrific 2019, Stokes is impossible to be kept out of any World XI in any format. Moreover, with pitches in India offering something for the seam bowlers off late, Stokes brings in the value as the third seamer.
Shakib Al Hasan is currently the best batsman from Bangladesh and is one of the best all-rounders from Asia in this era. He averages 52 in the two innings he has played in India, which added to his experience in the subcontinent makes him an invaluable asset. Shakib also fits in as the third spinner, thus giving the team enough balance as the sixth bowler. The six bowling options are a luxury that touring teams lack.
Pacers: Pat Cummins, Jofra Archer/Mitchell Starc
The top-ranked bowler in Test cricket Pat Cummins is an automatic choice, given the consistency he has shown over the past couple of seasons. Cummins has 8 wickets from 2 Tests in India and his more than decent batting is a plus, given India’s struggles in wiping out the tail.
Jofra Archer and Mitchell Starc both make good picks, but there is a slot for only one of them. Archer’s lethal bouncers and Starc’s fast-moving inswingers bring the much-needed X-factor that is needed to get the better of Indian batsmen at home.
Other potential options- Kagiso Rabada, Kagiso Rabada, and Chris Woakes
Spinners: Nathan Lyon, Rashid Khan/ Yasir Shah
Nathan Lyon is one of the best red-ball spinners at the moment, having proved his credibility in all conditions. Lyon ripped through the Indian line-up in the second innings in Pune which helped them win a Test on Indian soil after 13 years. Lyon’s record against India makes the off-spinner an obvious choice. He has taken 34 wickets from just 7 games in India.
Yasir Shah is one of the best wrist spinners in Test cricket at the moment, with vast experience of playing in Asia. Rashid Khan, on the other hand, is the most promising wrist-spinner with limited experience in Test cricket. Both Yasir and Rashid are attacking spinners and will provide the touring side a top-notch second spinner, something most touring sides lack.
Other potential options – Ish Sodhi
A playing XI comprising of such skill-sets and experience will be difficult to get away with by any home team. But can they challenge India?
Even when you put together such a team – with in-form openers who play spin well, a formidable middle-order, two all-rounders, two high-class attacking spinners and a couple of the best pacers in the world – India already have all these plus the experience of using them together over a long time. Moreover, the whole squad needs to play out of their skin, multiple times throughout the whole series, to get the better of the home team.