Home strength set to be tested again
- Sports, Published on: Wednesday 16th November 16 - 8:04pm
It is a couple of thousand kilometres from Dhaka to Rajkot but England travelled even further in their attempts to banish the subcontinental homesick blues. The Saurashtra Cricket Association were welcoming it hosts, it has to be said, and Alastair Cook had the fates on his side at the toss, allowing England's batsmen to stockpile runs (and confidence) on a placid surface; but their display nevertheless exceeded all expectations, prompting Trevor Bayliss to call it the "best performance" since he took charge.
For India, Rajkot was flat in more ways than one. Their much-vaunted spin attack collected figures of 9 for 521 and, having ground their way towards first-innings parity, a minor collapse on the final afternoon left them hanging on for a draw - a new experience for the team under Virat Kohli's captaincy. More than that, it was the first time since England's visit in 2012 that India had been denied victory in a home Test (barring last year's wash-out in Bangalore).
Kohli has talked confidently and humbly about learning lessons and not taking England for granted - but there was also an undertone of irritation at the stultifying effect of the surface provided for the first Test. Visakhapatnam is expected to offer more for the spinners, as it did during an ODI on New Zealand's tour last month, but the Andhra Cricket Association has publically promised a "neutral pitch". In 2012, MS Dhoni's call for more helpful surfaces backfired as Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar spun riot in Mumbai and Kolkata but, despite the improved display from England's slow trio in Rajkot, India would be confident of winning a shootout this time around.
Whatever the Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy ACA-VDCA Stadium serves up, India's prospects would certainly be aided by R Ashwin rectifying a dismal record against England (with the ball, at least). An average of 53.40 is comfortably his worst against any Test nation - though his first-innings 70 maintained a similar figure with the bat and may have been the difference between a draw and defeat. Five of England's top six made significant contributions in Rajkot but, during a five-Test series, there is plenty of scope for the narrative to take a twist.
Luck and judgement have played their part in England settling on a system to take on the might of India in India. The prodigious emergence of Haseeb Hameed may have solved a perennial problem at opener, while Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid showed the benefits of working with a spin coach as knowledgeable as Saqlain Mushtaq. Cook's England are on a four-Test unbeaten run in these parts but it will require another round of unstinting effort to keep the hosts at bay.
India DWWWD (last five matches, most recent first)
Watch out for...
India's champion and match-winner, R Ashwin was strangely subdued in the first Test. His match haul of three wickets was his lowest in a home Test since Nagpur 2012, on England's last visit, though he was not helped by being asked to bowl first - 46 overs tells how heavy the workload was. In that first innings, Joe Root and Moeen Ali were particularly judicious in how they played him, finding gaps to rotate the strike and hitting over the top whenever the pressure needed releasing; of the left-handers he was supposed to gobble up, only Ben Duckett succumbed. More is expected of him in Vizag.
The lissom figure of Haseeb Hameed looks set to accompany Cook out at the start of the England innings for some time to come after his enchanting debut. The 19-year-old became the third-youngest Englishman to score a Test fifty and he belied the "Baby Boycs" tag bestowed on him by skipping out to hit Ravindra Jadeja for six - as Mark Butcher suggested on Switch Hit, perhaps the "Bolton Breezeblock" would be more appropriate. If he is bound to be bounced mercilessly at some point, it is probably unlikely to be in India, where he seems suitably at home given his Gujarati heritage.
India have indicated that KL Rahul will come back into the side at Gautam Gambhir's expense - possibly signalling the end of Gambhir's considerable international career. Kohli hinted at a surprise or two, which may mean a debut for either Karun Nair or Hardik Pandya, with Amit Mishra's place most vulnerable after a disappointing performance. Ishant Sharma could also contest a pace-bowling spot with Umesh Yadav, who was arguably the best quick on display in Rajkot.
India (probable) 1 KL Rahul, 2 M Vijay, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Karun Nair/Hardik Pandya, 7 R Ashwin, 8 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 9 Ravindra Jadeja, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Ishant Sharma/Umesh Yadav
England's one quandary is over the fitness of Chris Woakes and whether to gamble on James Anderson, who has not played since August due to a persistent shoulder problem. The temptation would be to stick with an unchanged XI but Woakes is carrying a "bowling niggle" according to Cook, meaning England's intention to hold Anderson back for the third Test in Mohali will be tested; Steven Finn could also come into the equation.
England (probable) 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Haseeb Hameed, 3 Joe Root, 4 Ben Duckett, 5 Moeen Ali, 6 Ben Stokes, 7 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 8 Chris Woakes/James Anderson, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 Zafar Ansari, 11 Stuart Broad
Pitch and conditions
There will be much scrutiny of the Vizag pitch over the next five days. On the eve of the match it appeared firm and true, without much grass, and is expected to play well initially before taking increasing turn. The last ODI played here saw New Zealand bowled out for 79, with Mishra taking 5 for 18, while Assam were dismissed for 69 in a Ranji Trophy match, also in October - although that was a different strip and down to variable bounce rather than spin. The weather is set to be hot and humid throughout and a lush outfield may test the ability of both teams to generate reverse swing.
Stats and trivia
- Visakhapatnam has hosted seven ODIs and two T20 internationals but this will be the first Test at the ground - making it India's 24th Test venue.
- Virat Kohli and Joe Root are both set to play their 50th Tests in Visakhapatnam.
- Cheteshwar Pujara and M Vijay are approaching 3000 career runs - Pujara is three short, while Vijay needs 20.
- Hameed's 82 in Rajkot was the highest score by a teenager for England.
- Three England batsmen (Jonny Bairstow, Root and Cook) have passed 1000 Test runs for 2016; Moeen Ali needs 186 more to get there as well.
"Many would have been looking at that situation in a different way, that we struggled and we were put under pressure, but as a cricketer internally we know what we learnt from that situation."
Virat Kohli believes India's second innings in Rajkot was a useful test
"This side is growing all the time and there's a lot of talent in English cricket at the moment."
Alastair Cook suggests there is more to come from England