Can India bounce back?
Despite an early setback, the Series is anything but over for Team India. With the weather in check, correct strategies and timely realignment, Lord’s could very well witness the comeback of Kolhi & Co.
Test cricket is tough. Losing in Test cricket is tougher. And, staging a comeback from a heartbreaking opening defeat is perhaps the toughest. Trailing 0-1 in England, India surely has their task cut out. This is not the first time that India has been defeated in the opening game of a Test series. In January 1973, India lost the opening game against the hosts in a five-match series and England was up 1-0. Little did the English fans know about what lay ahead. In the second test, Bishan Singh Bedi and BS Chandrasekhar spun the game towards India with some brilliant bowling. With the series levelled, India waltzed the English into a dizzy and took an unexpected 2-1 lead – eventually clinching a historic series win with the last two tests resulting in draws.
Despite England registering a 31-run victory over the visitors in the first Test of the 2018 English summer at Edgbaston, the series still stands open. For the second game, we are back at the historic Lord's, which has been the friendliest hunting ground for Asian teams. The last five games between England and teams from Asia have ended in dismay for the hosts. The last time India played England in a test match at Lord's, the visitors dominated the game and registered a comprehensive 95-run victory with Ishant Sharma running all over the English batters.
Though India lost the first game, which had swayed inconclusively until the precious wicket of Kohli in the second innings, England has more questions to answer in terms of making changes. India, on the other hand, doesn't have much to go by – other than actively backing team instincts. Any captain would love to have two spinners on the team for a Test at Lord's, but if the overcast conditions prevail, India's decision to play two spinners might just backfire. Shikhar Dhawan faced the axe and made way for Cheteshwar Pujara who is better exposed to the conditions despite his poor run for Yorkshire. India brought in a second spinner in Kuldeep Yadav leaving out Umesh Yadav. Kohli has never opted for the same playing XI in his tenure of 35 Tests as Captain.
On the other hand, England had to check quite a few boxes. With Ben Stokes being ruled out for his court hearing of the pub brawl incident and David Malan left out over his poor run, England has named Chris Woakes and Ollie Pope as their replacements. England did have the option to bring in Moeen Ali as the second spinner but rather opted for Chris Woakes given the green tinge on the pitch with the first day of the second Test being washed out.
India was rather close to taking a 1-0 lead in the series. But a few decisions cost them the game. India definitely needs to find a solution to ripping off the tail or the 'lower order' as referred by Ishant Sharma. At the same time, it cannot be ruled out that India were outplayed by the new ball despite the 50-run opening stand between Dhawan and Vijay in the first innings. Further, the over-reliance on Kohli, who appeared as the only beacon of light, could be a problem in the latter half of the series. Unlike the subcontinent conditions, the new ball does a lot of talking in the seaming conditions of England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – and, India's top order must find ways to see off the new ball. Even though Pujara has just averaged 22.20 in his last 10 innings at England and has just one score past 100 outside Asia, he has been a definite choice for experts who want to indulge him into the team for his ability in seeing off seaming and swinging deliveries. Generally regarded as an aggressive cricketer, Kohli, at his press conference before the second Test, made it clear that India batsmen need to have a plan in dealing with the first 20-30 balls with more composure rather than flashy strokes.
India needs to address the issue of catching at the slip cordon. As many as four catches had been dropped, which eventually played a major part in their demise. With the series already spiced up, some of the key battles going into the remaining games would be the old rivalry between Kohli and Anderson, as well as between Ashwin and Cook, who was bamboozled on both occasions of the first game between bat and pad with similar deliveries by the former.
With the first day at Lords being washed out due to heavy rains across the city of London, the clouds were expected to stay away for Day 2. On winning the toss, Joe Root opted for the obvious choice to bowl first on a pitch that was covered for over a day due to the rains. Only 35 overs could be bowled during the day, and Test cricket saw the old warhorse Jimmy Anderson at his best, seaming the ball past the edges of the Indian batters. In the blink of an eye, Anderson trapped both the Indian openers and pushed India on the backfoot. Even after much resistance from the Indian skipper, Stokes's replacement Woakes produced a Jaffa to get Kohli edged to the second slip. With Anderson and Woakes on full song, it all seemed to be a downward slide for India. India was left clueless and eventually bowled out for a mere 107 at the stroke of stumps on Day 2, halted by rain on multiple occasions. In the course of his five-wicket haul, Anderson became the pacer with the most number of wickets against India, surpassing Pakistan's Imran Khan. Making most of the swinging conditions, England has managed an early leap. With the weather conditions expected to get better, India would surely look to bowl England out swiftly.
Despite the initial setbacks for Team India, the series has hardly reached its ending. With all guns blazing, the Men in metaphoric blue would surely look to pull a few spins sprinkled with the timely bounce to make the most of their time in the lush of the 'Home of Cricket'.