India took complete control of the second Test against Sri Lanka with captain Virat Kohli smashing his fifth double century in Tests and Rohit Sharma also joining the run fest with an unbeaten century. India amassed 610-6 to put the Test beyond the Sri Lankans.
India will most likely call the shots over the next two days.
Here, we look at two good and two bad efforts during the third day’s play in Nagpur.
Kohli’s strike rate
Captain Kohli’s double century was as effortless as it was high on strokeplay. In a a match where the rest of the batsmen took their time to score runs, Kohli batted freely scoring 213 off 267 balls at a strike rate of a shade under 80. It made up for the scoring rates of Murali Vijay (128 off 221) and the exceptionally slow Cheteshwar Pujara (143 off 362), and allowed India to have a go at Sri Lanka late in the day.
Rohit stakes his claim
Ajinkya Rahane got out for his third straight single digit score in the ongoing series, vacating the scene for his Mumbai team-mate Rohit Sharma to step up and score a century. No doubt the conditions and opposition made it that much easier but a hundred is a hundred and Sharma got there. Sharma is not a regular Test batsman but he does have four fifty plus scores in his last five innings. The selectors are looking at various options for the upcoming tour of South Africa and Sharma has done his chances no harm at all.
Perera’s forgettable outing
Off-spinner Dilruwan Perera was a key performer during Sri Lanka’s stunning series win against Pakistan in the UAE. He took four wickets in the first Test and eight in the second. But in Nagpur, he looked far from a match-winner. While veteran left-armer Rangana Herath kept the scoring down by giving away just 81 runs from 39 overs, Perera undid all that hard work by bleeding 202 from 45. What’s worse, he had dropped centurion Murali Vijay when the batsman was on 61.
Rahane’s home woes
Ajinkya Rahane is a bit of an enigma. A technical maestro, Rahane’s home record pales in comparison to his away tally. The Mumbai batsman averages just 35 from 18 home games but 53 in 24 away matches. It makes it that much more difficult to pick him first up, at least in home Tests. His scores of 4, 0 and 2 in this series allowed the focus to drift to Rohit and the team management will be forced to think that much harder about the likely playing XI for the South Africa Tests.
The Ashes start on Thursday, with Australia slight favourites thanks to their home advantage. England may be the current holders of the famous urn, but the last time the series was played Down Under, the Aussies completed a 5-0 whitewash.
However, England have endured a fraught build-up to the series, and Australia will bank on their home conditions to help them pull through.
Who will win the Ashes?
Let us know your thoughts as our two writers discuss the topic.
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ALEX BROUN, SAYS YES
There are six very good reasons why Australia will win the upcoming Ashes series, with every chance of a 5-0 whitewash: David Warner, Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.
This is the core of the Australian batting and bowling attack that I fully expect to take England apart this summer.
All six have runs and wickets in abundance, are in form, and love playing in Australian conditions.
Take the freakish Steve Smith for starters. His scores in the last five Tests in Australia are 48*, 31, 59, 40, 130, 63, 165*, 24 and 59 for an aggregate of 619 and a scary average (if you’re an England supporter) of 88.42. Khawaja’s isn’t much worse (480 runs at 60.00) with Warner on 460 at 51.11.
But what if England do somehow get through these three? Well they’ll have to deal with Peter Handscomb who is Smith-like with his Australian Tests performances: 54, 1*, 105, 35*, 54, 110 and 40*, totalling 399 from four Tests at an average of 99.75.
Throw in the in-form Cameron Bancroft and Shaun Marsh, yes – picked on form – and the Australian batting line up spells three words: runs, runs, runs.
I can’t see any reason why this is going to change against the 30 plus and injury prone England “pace” attack, who only ever perform well in English conditions. Sadly for the tourists I can’t see their batsmen doing the same when they are the crease with the peerless Starc, refreshed Cummins and McGrath-clone Hazlewood ready to rip in.
Together Starc and Hazlewood have taken 139 wickets in Australia with a bowling average of 27.60 and if you think Cummins is going to absolutely let rip in his first home Test series you are probably right. I fully expect the trio to destroy England’s top order.
If you need any more reasons try a thing called history. The last time England visited in 2013-14 they got spanked by 381 runs, 218 runs, 150 runs, eight wickets and 281 runs as the Aussies blanked them 5-0.
Looking at the two teams on paper, it is hard to see a different result in 2017-18.
CHRIS BAILEY, SAYS NO
For weeks we’ve heard that England are underpowered, undermanned, undercooked. It’s been undeserved scrutiny compared to an Australia team whose bursting seams have finally been revealed.
The tourists have their fair share of problems – there’s no doubt about that. To once again lean on a pair of 30-something pacemen in James Anderson and Stuart Broad, and hope neither Chris Woakes nor Jake Ball break down while bowling with enough menace on the flattest of tracks, is a big ask. There are also question marks in the batting order over the heads of Mark Stoneman, Dawid Malan and James Vince, even though all to some extent showed promise against the pretty shoddy warm-up ensembles.
For all the usual Australian bluster however – you know it’s Ashes season when Glenn McGrath has predicted another Baggy Green whitewash – stones and glasshouses come to mind.
That Australia coach Darren Lehmann, 48 in February, has scored a Sheffield Shield century more recently than surprise wicket keeper call-up Tim Paine, speaks for how depleted they are behind the stumps. Adam Gilchrist, or even Brad Haddin, Paine certainly isn’t.
Shaun Marsh, hardly the sort of player to boost Aussie morale, returns at No6 while Cameron Bancroft – who was so-so for Gloucestershire in England’s Division Two this year – opens instead of an out-of-form Matt Renshaw.
England will not be quivering heading into the Gabba but it is nonetheless fiendishly hard to win any away Test series and some of the Aussies are simply different animals in their own territory. Take Usman Khawaja, an enigma on his travels but a scorer of four centuries in 12 home Tests.
Facing one of the weakest Australia teams in years may not tilt the pendulum heavily in their favour given their own deficiencies, but a batting spine of Alastair Cook, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali is made of sterner stuff than the hosts may care to admit.
Don’t be surprised either if a certain Ben Stokes returns in time for Christmas to put a lump of coal in Aussie stockings.