Looking in the past is a good way to predict future, for that’s where you find hidden (or at times, blatant) signs of what to expect. Therefore it won’t be a bad idea for India and England to look at Vizag and Rajkot for both an inspiration and a reality check. In both games, the team that won the toss dominated the match. The pitch in Rajkot was a bit too flat and that’s why England couldn’t pull off a result. On the contrary, the pitch in Vizag deteriorated at a much faster rate, not alarmingly fast though, and therefore we got a result on the fifth afternoon.
India’s success story in the recent past is built around a simple theory—put enough runs on the board to allow Ashwin and co. to weave their magic. The fact that Kohli has lost only one toss at home has made his team’s job a little easier. In addition to his luck with the toss, his form with the bat has helped the team battle the tough phases.
Vizag’s debut Test match saw India drawing first blood in this five-Test series but for me the highlights of the match lay somewhere else and not in the final result.
On the fourth morning of the Test, Broad bowled an inspired spell of high quality seam bowling. He was visibly in pain (limped his way back to the top of the run-up) and still gave everything to his bowling spell. Indian conditions can be quite harsh on the fast bowlers because of lack of help on the pitch (both in terms of grass and moisture) and the hot/humid weather that drains you quickly, and that’s why Broad’s spell will be remembered for a long time. Using the fingers to assist the wrist is a forgotten art and Broad displayed why it should not be, for when there’s no help in the air or from the pitch, you can roll your fingers slightly to get the right response. He was also hitting the deck hard to extract disconcerting bounce, which accounted for Rahane’s dismissal. The best coaching lessons come from the playing field and watching a re-run of his spell is a must for all aspiring young fast bowlers across the globe.
Kohli’s Batting Master class
To counter Broad’s skills, India needed someone with similar pedigree. Fortunately, Kohli was, once again, in the heart of the action. Even though he also got beaten a couple of times, he didn’t let that tinker his response to the following few deliveries. The most remarkable thing about Kohli’s response was his approach, for instead of waiting in his crease, Kohli started walking down the pitch a little forcing Broad to shorten the length further. All Indian batsmen, apart from Kohli, stayed rooted to the crease and paid the ultimate price. Kohli was also exceptional in his astute judgment of length and making sure that his response was in accordance to both the ball and the pitch behaviour. Even when the ball was short, he played it with a straight bat, for he was aware of the dangers of a ball keeping low. The most telling aspect of a genius is the ease with which they do difficult things, and Kohli indeed made batting look easy in trying conditions.
England lasting more overs than India
Even though England lost the Test match, all was not lost for them. Right through the two Test matches England has shown that they both have the will and the skill to fight against India in these conditions. While England could have and actually should have batted better in the first innings of second Test, they did walk away with a lot of credit for batting the way they did in the second dig. In fact, they batted more overs in their second innings than India did in their second innings of the same game, despite batting last on a wilting pitch. One area they do need drastic improvement in is their spinners’ ability to stitch together dot balls.
It’s believed that Mohali helps seam bowlers more than the spinners and the slightly colder weather in the North of India is also ideal for them to bowl longer spells. But it’s worth revisiting the old scorecards from the recent Tests at this venue, for that’ll quash all such notions. The last time India played a Test at Mohali, seam-bowlers were almost rendered useless because of the dry and slow nature of the track. In fact, the track was so helpful for the spinners from the first day itself that South Africa’s best bowler turned out to be their part-time left-arm spinner Dean Elgar. While I’m anticipating a slightly better track than the one dished out for that Test (the Test lasted three days) last year, it’ll still be a track tailor-made for spinners.
In 2012 and 2014, England won the series despite India taking the lead first up. History tells us that England have done it before but this time, it’ll be a lot tougher than the last two occasions.