England vs India 2018, 2nd Test: Team India needs to stick to their strengths
India's narrow defeat by 31 runs in the 1st Test in Birmingham has surely raised a lot of questions as to why they lost the Test which was under their grasp when they had hosts England reeling at 87-7 in their 2nd innings!
Not only the cricket pundits but also a commoner can point out what did not go India's way. It was the collective failure by the batsmen that led to India's dismal batting performance in the 2nd innings. India's batting was ordinary with none of them striving to apply themselves with the flow of the game and pitch conditions. The batsmen surrendered rather meekly to the marauding English attack led by the influential all-rounder Ben Stokes - easily the contemporary replacement of Andrew Flintoff.
However, India's biggest gain from the Test was captain marvellous Virat Kohli's form. His extraordinary effort with the bat saved India the blues, as Kohli scored the bulk of runs for India, top-scoring in both the innings (149 and 51). He has not only shut his critics but also has made the English media write heavily in his praise thereby defining that form may be temporary but class is permanent.
Not only did Kohli score 200 runs but also went past his total tally of 134 runs that he had aggregated in the test series of his previous tour of England - certainly an aberration that he was itching to rectify in this tour.
Former India captain Sourav Ganguly has rightly pointed out that Virat Kohli is a different character altogether having transformed from an aggressive brat into a monumental figure in Indian cricket. Ever since he took over the reigns from MS Dhoni as full-time captain, Virat Kohli has brought in more concentration, focus and determination to his batting that has looked peerless and is always a treat to watch.
What the India captain wants is that 2-3 of the key members of the Test side support him in this 5-match Test series. Leaving aside Virat Kohli, none of the other batsmen has shown character to fight and win. However, the bowlers showed hunger and intent.
Led by senior Ishant Sharma, team India has the likes of Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav as pacers with Hardik Pandya completing the fast bowling quartet. Ishant Sharma was the wrecker-in-chief last time in 2014 when he rattled the English batsmen with pace, swing and bounce. At Edgbaston also, he claimed a 5-wicket haul in the 2nd innings with match figures of 7/74 that could have turned out to be a match-winning effort.
However, the services of swing-master Bhuvneshwar Kumar and yorker specialist Jasprit Bumrah will be dearly missed as these first-choice pacers are yet to recover from injury. Both Bhuvi and Bumrah form the core of India's bowling unit in the shorter format of the game (ODIs and T20s). In the famous win at Lord's in 2014, Bhuvneshwar Kumar produced an all-round performance scoring 36 and 52 runs in the lower order and also took a 5-wicket haul in the 1st innings (6/82) with the red cherry.
With conditions being hotter than normal, India should be enjoying a warm English summer, with the pitch conditions helping the spinners. Ravichandran Ashwin picked as the premier spinner-cum-all-rounder in the side bowled well in the Edgbaston Test picking up 7 wickets (4/62 and 3/59).
The pitch conditions at Lord's remain a lush green top as the curator has left small grasses that can retain moisture as London has been facing the heat with temperatures hovering over 30 degrees. Virat Kohli might be tempted to bring in the left-arm chinaman Kuldeep Yadav, who can flight the ball in the air, to deceive the English batsmen. The Ashwin-Kuldeep duo can cause trouble to the England batsmen if the heat conditions prevail with cracks coming up in the pitch.
Prior to the Lord's Test, India captain Virat Kohli in a pre-match press conference has urged Indian fans not to judge team's performance on the basis of Edgbaston Test as this is going to be a gruelling Test series fought closely. According to him, India losing wickets in clusters is not technique but more about the mental aspect.
With county experience, Cheteshwar Pujara should make a comeback at number 3 replacing an out-of-form Shikhar Dhawan. Murali Vijay should open with KL Rahul. Pujara's inclusion will certainly bring in some balance and depth into the team, which is what Virat Kohli will be expecting.
Ajinkya Rahane's form continues to hurt India as the number 5 batsman is struggling of late with his form. He must get another chance as Lord's is where he got a brilliant century last time when India won by 95 runs. This means triple centurion Karun Nair might have to wait until further reshuffling is done.
England will be without the service of all-rounder Ben Stokes and another rookie all-rounder Ollie Pope is likely to debut at the iconic Lord's against the number one test side in the world presently.