India need the real Ajinkya Rahane to stand up at Lord's after a poor run of form

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Ajinkya Rahane's loss of form is a big worry for India.

As a visibly dejected Virat Kohli walked off the field following India’s 31-run loss to England at Edgbaston, a million questions would have been forming in his mind.

The foremost of them would have been the inability of the rest of the India batting line-up to stand up to the task. Of the 446 total runs scored by India in the two innings at Edgbaston, Kohli himself had accounted for 200 of them.

Only one other India batsman in Hardik Pandya (52) managed to surpass a combined 50 runs in both innings. While the collective failure of the batting unit stood out like a sore thumb, the below-par performances of Ajinkya Rahane and Murali Vijay were the major causes for India’s downfall.

The two, especially Rahane, have been India’s stalwarts many a time on their overseas sojourns in recent years. Rahane, in particular, has been the rock on which many of India’s rare overseas triumphs have been built upon.

However, the Mumbai batsman has hit a lean patch of form never previously seen in his career. The right-hander was dismissed for scores of 15 and two in the two innings at Edgbaston. More than the quantity of Rahane’s runs, it was the manner of his dismissals which left much to be desired.

In the first innings, he failed to deal with the extra bounce generated by England all-rounder Ben Stokes as he stabbed a rising delivery straight into the hands of third slip. In the second, he chased a rank short-pitched delivery way outside off-stump only to under-edge it into the wicketkeeper’s hands.

To see a batsman who is generally considered to be India’s most dependable overseas Test batsman get dismissed in such fashion raises plenty of eyebrows.

Rahane's confidence seems to be at an all-time low.

Rahane’s confidence seems to be at an all-time low.

Those were the signs of a batsman who is clearly struggling with confidence and self-belief at the moment. His dismissal for just two in the second innings means that the Indian stalwart has now gone 11 innings without registering a single half-century.

The India vice-captain has been on a downward spiral ever since his innings of 188 against New Zealand in Indore during October 2016.

Since then, he has scored only 701 runs in 28 innings at a measly average of 26.96. No matter how much you want to sugarcoat those figures, they are not the numbers one would expect from a batsman of Rahane’s talents.

In this period, the only ton that the 30-year-old registered came against Sri Lanka at Colombo last year. In fact, his record gets even worse after that knock of 133, with his next 11 innings fetching only 118 runs at an average of just 10.72.

Kohli will want from his deputy in the coming Tests.

Kohli will want more from his deputy in the coming Tests.

For a man who used to average more than 50 until much of 2016, the downturn has been notable to say the least.

The right-hander’s confidence was at a new low after Sri Lanka’s tour of India in late 2017. In the three-match series, Rahane could only manage a pitiful 17 runs in five innings at an average less than the runs a single boundary fetches.

That he was then not picked for the first two Tests in India’s tour of South Africa earlier this year would not have done any favours to his already diminished confidence. Rahane could only watch from the sidelines even as limited-overs specialist Rohit Sharma was picked ahead of him.

When he did finally get his chance in the final Test at Johannesburg, the India middle-order batsman struck a vital 48 in the second innings as Virat Kohli’s men scripted a famous victory.

Quite simply, Rahane has been a vital cog in whatever overseas success India have garnered over the past four years or so. His notable lack of form currently does not bode well for the visitors in the remainder of the five-match series.

While Kohli currently appears like a man possessed on a single-minded mission to set right his record on English soil and continue his march towards greatness, India will still need another batsman to at least chip in with some handy contributions if they are to have any chance in the series.

They will hope that batsman is Rahane, for he has done it many times previously. Kohli will want his deputy to shoulder some of the batting responsibility and he will be hoping that the venue of the second Test can give Rahane the necessary boost in confidence he so desperately needs.

It was at Lord’s in 2014 that Rahane scored perhaps the best of his nine Test tons so far. His masterful 104 had been the catalyst for India’s thrilling 95-run win and Kohli and his men could do with more of the same this time as they seek to get back on level terms in the series.

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India miss a trick by going in with a sole spinner in Edgbaston Test against England

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Ashwin was the pick of India's bowlers on the opening day.

Ahead of the start of the five-Test series against England, Virat Kohli and India were faced with a question – whether to line up with two specialist spinners or to stick with a four-man pace attack which included all-rounder Hardik Pandya.

In the end, Kohli opted to go with the latter as the overcast conditions and perhaps England’s own decision to go with a lone spinner in the form of Adil Rashid played on his mind.

At the end of the first-day’s play at Edgbaston, the Indian skipper would have been left wondering if he had missed a trick by not going in with two spinners.

It was not the four-man pace attack that got India the initial breakthrough on Wednesday. It was instead the off-spin of Ravichandran Ashwin that shattered Alastair Cook’s off-stump as early as the ninth over of England’s innings.

In that ripper of a delivery, Ashwin had made it clear that there was joy to be had for the spinners. The drift, turn and guile all seemed to be working for him as Cook fell the off-spinner for the eighth time in his career.

That was just the start for Ashwin. His delivery to trap Jos Buttler plumb in front of the wicket for a duck was further proof of the purchase available for spinners at Edgbaston.

England's vulnerability to spin came to the fore once again.

England’s vulnerability to spin came to the fore once again.

By the time the day was winding down, Ashwin’s confidence was soaring as he brought out his ‘outswinger’ to dismiss Stuart Broad. Kohli and team India would have been mighty pleased with their day’s work after reducing England to 285-9. But in their minds, they would know that it could have been even better.

Had they played to their strengths and picked either Ravindra Jadeja or Kuldeep Yadav to go with Ashwin, the outcome of Wednesday could have been much different with the way England struggled against spin. Only Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow played Ashwin with any surety and even then the latter was lucky on a few occasions as the outside edge drifted just wide of the slip fielders.

Instead, India were stuck with Pandya as their fifth bowling option and the all-rounder failed to create any major impact. The 10 overs Pandya bowled fetched England 46 runs as he relieved the pressure created by the other bowlers on multiple occasions.

India could have done with either Kuldeep or Jadeja on Wednesday.

India could have done with either Kuldeep or Jadeja on Wednesday.

His bowling display on Wednesday meant India were bowling very much with a four-man bowling attack. While it might still not be too big a price to pay for the visitors yet, they could rue going in with only one spinner by the time the second innings comes around.

If the pitch continues to deteriorate under the influence of the ongoing heatwave, spinners could have an even greater role to play. England still have the luxury of turning to skipper Joe Root for some part-time off spinners if the situations so desires.

India, unfortunately, will not have that option with none of their batsmen being part-time spinners. As Root showed in Yorkshire’s Roses clash against Lancashire recently, he can be an effective option when the conditions are just right.

While it is too late for India now to change that aspect in the ongoing Test, they certainly now have some food for thought for the remaining four matches. England’s vulnerability against quality spinners remains based on Wednesday’s showing. Kohli and India could be better served by backing their strength for the rest of the series unless England put up a green minefield at the other four venues.

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Joe Root serves reminder of his bowling prowess as England wrestle with lack of spin options for India Tests

Ashish Peter 24/07/2018
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Joe Root picked up career-best figures of 4-5 in Yorkshire's win.

The eagerly anticipated five-match Test series between England and India is now just days away. The visitors have been hit with injuries to key pacers ahead of the series but the current weather prevalent in England will have their spinners licking their lips in anticipation.

The UK is experiencing its hottest summer in decades with an unprecedented heat wave which is expected to last till the end of August at least.

That means that the unusually dry weather will coincide with a major chunk of the Test series that begins on August 1 before culminating in the second week of September.

It has traditionally been pacers and seamers who have ruled the roost on the swinging green pitches of England in the summer but the spinners will be expected to play a much bigger role this time in keeping with the dry weather.

It is in that aspect that India will feel bullish about their chances with their three-man spin contingent brimming with quality.

The ever-dependable duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja bring with them a wealth of experience and top-notch quality and with the addition of Kuldeep Yadav, the spin contingent is bearing a fearsome look ahead of the five Tests.

While Virat Kohli might have felt obliged to go with just one spinner in the bowling attack when planning ahead of the series months ago, the change in weather might now tempt him to opt for two.

It is safe to say that the India skipper will not be short of options should he opt to go with two spinners in any of the Tests given the world-class three operators at his disposal.

The same cannot be said of the hosts though, who are mulling over handing a Test recall to leg-spinner Adil Rashid after his displays in the recently concluded ODI series.

Their options in that department are so thin that they might be forced to turn to a man who turned his back on red-ball cricket after signing a limited-overs only contract with Yorkshire earlier this year.

Rashid has not played Test cricket since December, 2016.

Adil Rashid has not played Test cricket since December 2016.

Their only other options in the spin department are Moeen Ali, Dominic Bess and Jack Leach. Moeen endured a dismal time with the ball in England’s 4-0 Ashes defeat to Australia before being subsequently dropped after another poor showing in the Test series against New Zealand.

On the other hand, Bess showed plenty of potential in his Test debut against Pakistan recently but throwing the 21-year-old in the Test arena against India  is full of risk and might not be the most sensible of decisions from the England management.

Leach was on course to start the Test series against Pakistan after playing one match in the tour of New Zealand but a freak injury while batting in the nets spoiled plans as Bess was handed a debut instead.

Given England’s woes in the spin department, Joe Root’s four-wicket burst in Yorkshire’s win over Lancashire in the Roses clash could not have come at a better time. The England Test skipper served a timely reminder of his off-spin prowess on Tuesday as he led Yorkshire to a 118-run victory with career-best figures of 4-5 in the second innings.

Root’s 19 wickets in 69 Tests might be nothing to shout about but his part-time off-spin might just be the little extra edge England might need to combat India in the series. England’s lack of depth when it comes to spin means that the hosts will in all probability line up with just one specialist spinner in the series and as such, Root’s off-spin could prove to be highly valuable asset.

Moeen Ali had picked up 19 wickets in India's tour of 2014.

Moeen Ali had picked up 19 wickets in India’s tour of 2014.

While three of his four wickets in the Roses clash might have been tailenders, Root did account for the dismissal of the well set Jos Buttler too. He might not have the variations at his disposal that the likes of Ashwin possess but as Moeen Ali showed in 2014, India’s batsmen do have a tendency to get carried away against the spinners.

Moeen picked up 19 wickets in England’s 3-1 series win as India’s batsmen paid the price for trying to attack him at every opportunity.

The England skipper will be expected to notch up the big knocks in the series after his relative failure to get a century in the tours of Australia and New Zealand but it is with the ball that Root could give England what they lack against India.

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