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An extraordinary comeback awaits: Test championship

Shivam Pathak

After a heavy 227-run loss in the opening Test, India are looking to level the four-Test series against England by flexing their spinning muscles in the second match in Chennai starting today. Left-arm spinner Axar Patel looks set to make his Test debut for India, while England have already announced four changes to their winning XI from the first Test. To get into finals of Test championship India needs to win the series by at least 2-1 margin.

Will the Chepauk pitch for the second Test live up to the Indian team management’s expectations? One has to wait and see, but the hosts are no longer taking the surface out of the equation. Under pressure, they are seemingly falling back on their age-old formula of spinning out opponents on turners.

Feeling Jadeja’s absence

Joe Root’s England is brilliantly prepared this term. Also, they have found a chink in India’s armor. Usually at home, India choke their opponents with relentless spin from both ends. But Ravindra Jadeja’s injury has created a hole, putting pressure on Ashwin to singlehandedly carry the team’s spin attack. It made England’s job a lot easier in the first Test, especially on the first two days when the pitch slept. Root and Co wore down Ashwin and capitalised on the profligacy of Shahbaz Nadeem and Washington Sundar. Axar Patel is fit and will replace Nadeem for the second Test. Style-wise; Axar is the closest Indian cricket can offer as Jadeja’s replacement at the moment. But the 27-year-old is yet to play Test cricket and his effectiveness at this level remains unknown.

Kuldeep Yadav for Washington would be an attacking option, provided the Chinaman bowler is making the ball zip off the surface. The change, though, is fraught with risk. For seven Tests on the bounce now, India has failed to post a 400-plus total in an innings. Time and again, they have been bailed out by the lower-middle order, be it the partnership between Washington and Shardul Thakur in Brisbane or the former’s classy 85 not out in the first innings of the first Test here. Kohli has made it clear that the team wants bowlers who can contribute with the bat as well. It would be difficult to replace Washington without upsetting the team’s balance.

Making task tougher for themselves

Fielding regression and a lack of bowling discipline have made matters worse. A total of 31 catches went down in Australia across formats. That India still fought back to get the better of the Aussies in their backyard spoke volumes for the team’s resolve and strength of character under Rahane’s captaincy. What happened in Australia, however, was a departure from the normal. Also, Australia was equally loose on the field. In the first Test, a tight run-out opportunity very early into Root’s innings on the first day followed by a couple of lives to Ben Stokes proved costly. England, on the other hand, put on an exhibition of stunning catches; from Root to Stokes and James Anderson. Over the two innings in the first Test, India also bowled 27 no-balls.

Rahane admitted that in Indian conditions, close-in catches are crucial. “We are really working hard on what we can control. In India, close-in catches are really important and sometimes these things happen. No one does it intentionally; it’s all about how confident you are. Close-in catches are really important,” he said.

About no-balls, India’s vice-captain stayed away from public criticism of the bowlers. “We all were disappointed about the no-balls and they are working really hard.”

Weaker England?

Jofra Archer will sit out with an elbow injury while James Anderson and Dom Bess are rested. Keeper Jos Buttler is rested for the rest of series. Moeen Ali, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes, Ben Foakes and Olly Stone are included in the squad. India is likely to make just one change with Axar Patel coming in for Shahbaz Nadeem.

England showed in the first Test that they were ready to turn the slightest opportunity to their advantage. Irrespective of pitch conditions, India will have to be on top of their game. This Indian team is pretty good at coming back from reverses, but going by the tourists’ performance in the series opener, this time they probably have met their match.

 

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