Under fire after a below-par show on a good batting strip, the Indian spinners will aim for an improved show on a comparatively more helpful track as they take on a gritty England in the second cricket Test, starting in Visakhapatnam on Thursday.
The pitch at the ACA-VDCA ground is expected to be a rank turner that will test the visiting side’s batting unit big time after skipper Virat Kohli expressed his displeasure about the Rajkot strip where Indian spinners got a total nine wickets with four English batsmen scoring hundreds.
Questions are being raised about Ravichandran Ashwin’s ability to get wickets on a good track after finishing with underwhelming match figures of 3/230.
Veteran opener Gautam Gambhir’s place in the side is also under scanner after his poor show in the first Test and now that young KL Rahul has been fast-tracked into side in the wake of his good show on his Ranji comeback, the Delhi southpaw will certainly be on tenterhooks.
As the battle is expected to boil down to the spinners, it will be interesting whether Virat Kohli wants an extra batsman or an all-rounder in the playing XI. Fielding is another area where the Indians would like to improve after their dropped catches.
Spin has been the way forward for India but the mantra did not exactly work out for MS Dhoni and Co more than four years ago when England snatched a 2-1 series win after losing the first Test in Ahmedabad.
It was widely attributed that India will come out all guns blazing against the embattled England especially after their embarrassing first-ever defeat in Bangladesh about two weeks ago.
Despite the drawn result, four of England’s batsmen got centuries and spinners had a larger share of 13 wickets, Alastair Cook and Co. have shown that they they will not be pushovers unlike New Zealand, who were whitewashed 3-0 in the last series.
It’s clear from the visitors’ improved show that a tricky road lies ahead for India.
The famed Indian spinners did not dominate in Rajkot where the battle was won by the England troika of Moeen Ali, Zafar Ansari and leg-spinner Adil Rashid who returned with a match-haul of seven wickets.
Head coach Anil Kumble, however, defended their spinners who did not get much turn in Rajkot to return with nine wickets.
“Just because they got more wickets than our spinners doesn’t mean we will be at a loss but that’s what I am saying that we batted 160 overs. We will make our strategy based on the pitch we get, we will select the team accordingly. We play to take 20 wickets and win matches. Whatever wicket we get, we will play on that,” Kumble said.
Action shifting to Visakhapatnam, Ravichandran Ashwin will be in focus. Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra will also like to up the ante.
The leg-spinner Mishra in particular will be looking forward to return to the venue where he had shot New Zealand out for 79 in 23.1 overs with his devastating 5/18 in an ODI two weeks back.
But it is really not the bowling that will turn it around for India as the New Zealand series suggested that India is yet to come to terms with five-bowler theory as there has been times the middle-order has looked brittle whenever Kohli or Rahane has had failures.
The middle-order looked wobbly the moment Cheteshwar Pujara or Ajinkya Rahane have a failure with the bat as they have to bat deep with Virat Kohli at centre to give their spinners enough cushion on the scoreboard.
Gambhir’s comeback experiment is clearly not giving the results and the lefthander with his open chested stance found himself out of sorts against a Stuart Broad in-coming delivery to be trapped leg before wicket.
Making a return after two years, Gambhir’s Test comeback scores read 29-50 against New Zealand and 29-0 against England, enough for the team thinktank to rush in a fit-again KL Rahul midway from his Ranji Trophy match in Vizianagaram.
About the spin battle, England cannot be underestimated and they have made their intention clear by extending the contract of Pakistani great Saqlain Mushtaq who’s travelling as the spin bowling consultant.
Originally he was slated to leave after the first Test but Saqlain is to stay here till Mohali Test as there will be an off the field battle between him and India head coach Anil Kumble.
He has made his presence felt in Rajkot with Rashid attributing the fact that the former Pakistani off-spinner had made to bowl at natural pace rather than being quick in the air to get more turn.
Past series have proven that India tour have produced two of the best batsmen they have produced recently — in Cook and Joe Root both of whom made impressive debuts in Nagpur in 2006 and 2012.
Much similar to what happened in the past, the present series has seen the emergence of Haseeb Hameed who showed the perfect temperament needed in a Test format, by leaving the ball and dodging well to bouncers with his 31 and 82.
He also had a combative approach to spin and was not afraid of running down the pitch besides being a handy fielder at short leg as Hameed’s impressive debut has been the biggest positive in the drawn affair.
The skipper Cook has returned to his masterful best becoming the first Englishman to get past 1000 Test runs in India en rout to his 130 in the second innings, while Root proved his consistency by laying the foundation in the first innings with his 124.
To make matters more tilted to the visiting side, England have a fit-again James Anderson in the squad.
The English leader of the pace attack had returned with six wickets to complement their spinners at Eden Gardens in Kolkata to help them take a 2-1 lead going into the last and fourth Test in Nagpur which resulted in a draw.
It may not be a surprise if Anderson is included in the side in place of Chris Woakes but it remains to be seen whether Trevor Bayliss rushes him after his recovery from shoulder injury.
Whatever the combination or the conditions may be, India will be certainly wary of an England backfire in their own spin-friendly domain.
India: Virat Kohli, Murali Vijay, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, R Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravndra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, KL Rahul, Ishant Sharma, Hardik Pandya, Karun Nair and Jayant Yadav.
England: Alastair Cook (c), Haseeb Hameed, Joe Root, Ben Duckett, Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Chris Woakes, Adil Rashid, Zafar Ansari, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Gary Ballance, Gareth Batty, Jos Buttler, Steven Finn and Jake Ball.
Match starts: 09:30 am IST.