1. Shikhar Dhawan
Strengths: The first thing that strikes you about Shikhar Dhawan is his excellent temperament. It is a very understated virtue but it often separates those who score from the ones who don't. It was seen in South Africa earlier this year, when having been dropped from the Test side after the first game in Cape Town, Shikhar left all the disappointments behind him, just focussed on what he was facing and scored a lot of runs in the limited overs leg.
When you see Rohit Sharma, who played more Tests than Shikhar in South Africa and struggled despite playing at a position where batting isn't as tough, giving impressions that he feels scars of Tests in the ODIs, that is where a strong temperament makes all the difference.
Shikhar Dhawan's pleasant personality and his happy and innately smiling avatar, has a very focused and determined individual behind it. He wants to be there, shows a lot of heart playing Test match cricket and India are desperate to see him excel in all conditions because he can set up Test matches like Virender Sehwag use to.
Weaknesses: While there is a lot to like about him, one of thing that isn't as affable about Dhawan's batting, is his basic technique against good quality attacks in tough overseas conditions. Shikhar has a few very obvious technical flaws with his game.
1. His uncomfortable positions against the short ball. He often tends to get into, what can be termed as a defending position in boxing rather than an attacking one. When your head is forward, you are able to decide more efficiently about your action to a short ball like Virat Kohli does. Shikhar, if he is forward, will have a clear and quicker idea of whether to pull the ball or just let it go over his head.
2. His bat comes down from the angle where the gully fielder is often positioned. To survive against the inswingers your bat must go down from the angle of short area between the wicket-keeper and the first slip. Shikhar ends up playing this line with a cross batted shot when he needs to be ensuring he plays it as straight as possible.
3. One of the biggest difference between batting in India and overseas is that when playing off the front foot in India, you needn't worry about the lateral movement before going through your shots. In overseas conditions, Shikhar Dhawan's strength becomes his weakness, as his front foot cover drive that he so likes to play becomes a dangerous shot, especially early on, because in South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand, the ball comes in curved, not straight lines. Movement, in the air and off the pitch while playing his shots off the front foot, is Shikhar Dhawan's other batting issue.
Temperant is Shikhar Dhawan's friend, technical efficiency is not.
2. Murali Vijay
Strengths: During their last tour of England, infact across the 13 Tests that India played in the SENA countries in the season 2014-15, one of the batsmen that really stood out was Murali Vijay. By the end of all these tough tours, Vijay came out with huge respect earned and his reputation in Indian Cricket very well enhanced.
The two words that straightaway comes to mind when you think Murali Vijay, are fortitude and discipline. We are only talking overseas cricket here and these are values that are as much necessities as they are virtues, if success is your ambition batting overseas.
Vijay's very fine record in England, Australia and South Africa, has a lot to do with his excellent mental discipline to judge which ones to leave and which ones to play. Batting is as much a mental battle versus yourself as it is against the bowler. When Vijay leaves a bowler's good ball, the bowler follows with instinctively bowling at his body and then, like Indian batsmen do, he feasts of anything that is too straight and going down leg. He is still a modern-day batsman and has some really classical shots to play on the off side. Vijay doesn't cut down his shots, just that he wants to be extremely sure about the balls he plays them to. His desperate intent to leave and not pull & hook against the rising balls is an example of that.
Vijay at his best is very precise and decisive in his footwork and has a range of shots to play against the fast bowlers and spinners once set.
Weaknesses: And this is something that was never earlier seen with him. During the first two Tests in South Africa, Vijay batted very differently. In Cape Town and Centurion, Vijay employed a shuffle at the point of facing a delivery from the crease. This was quite unexpected, as Vijay moved away from his good-old batting technique, where him standing with a leg-stump guard and almost having a negligible trigger movement, allowed him to leave balls outside off stump and make the bowlers bowl to his pad.
Vijay struggled in those Tests and India lost the series.
This writer believes, one of the reasons why a batsman employs the kind of shuffle Vijay had in South Africa is the fitness. If one has ever faced a fast bowler, irrespective of level, it is easily understandable that a batsman feels less tired and more balanced at the crease when he is open-chested and less side on. The latter is technically correct, former isn't and opens areas of shortcomings in one's game.
Vijay going back to his ways in Johannesburg and his important knock in the second innings helping India win the Test on a really tough pitch, tells you something.
Nevertheless, India will need their "Monk" to be at his meditating best in England.
3. KL Rahul
Strengths: There's a lot that happens in Indian Cricket and it often tends to take the focus away from the onfield play but it is about time everyone acknowledges that alongside Jasprit Bumrah and Kuldeep Yadav, KL Rahul has been the most substantial find of the system over last five years.
When he was first seen, it was obvious that this Rahul has modeled his game on another Rahul from Karnataka and it can easily be still seen in his basic stance and technique at the crease. Rahul started off as a solid, defensive batsman, who had prolific domestic seasons for his state side.
His transition into this extremely positive stroke-maker hence, has been absolutely magnificent. From someone who couldn't find an IPL franchise 5 years back, KL Rahul is now one of India's best all-formats player. Him being one of the rare batsmen to have scored a hundred in all formats of the game tells you something.
He has the game to excel all over the world and should be scoring a lot of runs if given the confidence and the backing in England.
Weaknesses: There is a reason why experts advise people to bat naturally. Batting is an art that can never be mastered. When you plug one hole the other props up. KL Rahul's basic instincts have changed so much from the time he started off that employing an attacking response to the bowler seems to come more natural to him.
Rahul is young and he can get carried away at times. He can be through an exaggerated shot through the off side and before he realise that the bat is coming down the wrong angle, the ball passes through. It has often led to people questioning his temperament but it has more to do with him over attacking.
But, India must back him wholeheartedly for he has what it takes.
4. Cheteshwar Pujara
Strengths: Cheteshwar Pujara, much like Shikhar Dhawan, has an excellent temperament. He has a stellar record in Test match cricket for India and having scored 4,496 runs at an average of 50.51 across 57 Tests, he is one of the stalwarts of this batting line up. Pujara is from that old school of batsmanship, where players are grown up with more focus on their defensive skills rather than attacking ones.
Pujara can bat for hours and hours at the crease and score really big. He has the ability to take the shine off the new ball and make it easier for the middle order that follows. Pujara loves Test Cricket and it reflects in his batting.
He is just the kind of batsman you want to see excel batting no.3 for a side which is ambitioned to do well overseas.
Weaknesses: It feels odd to write this but defense, for someone who is well-known as a solid defensive player, is one of Cheteshwar Pujara's weaknesses. His batting technique has a few major issues.
1. When you see Pujara taking a stance, it becomes very apparent that he is a player who is born and brought up in conditions where the ball doesn't bounce much. He is very low with his hands and even his head, this coupled with his predominantly front-foot stance makes him extremely vulnerable to the short ball on pitches with pace and bounce.
2. Defense, for someone who is well-known as a solid defensive player, is one of Cheteshwar Pujara's batting issues in overseas conditions. His problems against the middle stump line, from where the ball inswings sharply in overseas conditions, tells you something. Pujara gives you a feeling that he is too caught up with the line outside the off-stump and isn't as focused on the line bowled at the wickets. One of the problems that his stance has transferred to his defense, is that his front-foot goes across and the bat then invariably comes down at an angle. It leaves enough gap for the balls to just sneak through.
Good bowlers, in overseas conditions, find out these issues sooner rather than later and the word starts spreading around.
There is a reason why Pujara's average outside Asia goes down very significantly from his average in India.
5. Virat Kohli
Strengths: Tough to point out one because Virat Kohli is a great player but one of the things that he isn't as admired for, is his constant strive to get better. The fact that he has scored more International runs after going through a horrible tour last time in England than before it, tells you something. Virat has been working with desperation to make his game immune to any obvious chink. His game against spin, swing and seam has never been better and he has worked really hard for it.
There was a time he wasn't considered as good a Test batsman as he is in limited overs cricket but Virat has turned things completely around over the last few years. He has taken his batting a notch higher every year and he now, has the game to excel in all conditions.
He will be the backbone of India's batting in England.
Weaknesses: Virat is a contemporary batsman, with modern-day batting instincts. He loves the feel of the ball hitting in the middle of the bat, especially early on and that makes him vulnerable to the balls swinging away. He loves playing that cover-drive outside off-stump and this shot is very much part of his nature. It is advised that if he feels he can't play the cover-drive, he either employs that illusive square-cut in his game or simply leaves the ball but must not defend that line with the bat face open, which indicates him getting caught in two minds.
The other thing that Virat must be wary of this time is not to be too desperate to prove why the horrible tour he had in 2014 was an aberration. Kohli struggled against the swing of James Anderson during that series but he mustn't mentally get into the series feeling he has to make a point to someone. Because in that mindset, he can possibly get negative if he doesn't find success at the start of the series.
6. Ajinkya Rahane
Strengths: Excellent player. One of the best India has produced this decade. Rahane has an oustanding record for India in overseas conditions and is one of those rare players to have a better average playing away from home. Rahane has played two decisive knocks in India's last two overseas wins.
His knock at Lord's in 2014 will forever remain his most memorable one and is now part of Indian Cricket's rich folklore.
Either side of his special at the home of cricket, with Durban (2013), Wellington (2014), Melbourne (2014) and many other crucial knocks, Rahane has proven himself as an all conditions player.
Rahane has done all of this with a strong basic technique that allows him to back himself while playing shots. There is a reason why he was able to successfully counterattack in Johannesburg earlier this year without going away from his usual style of play.
Weaknesses: Rahane's problem, ahead of the series in England, is more mental than anything else. He is currently going through a drought of runs and seems anxious and without much confidence at the crease. The everlasting confusion regarding his place in the limited overs game hasn't helped either.
It is really important that Ajinkya Rahane starts off the series well in England for India needs him to score big.
He needs to get back to being the Rahane that India fell in love with or else Virat Kohli's side will find it really tough.