Can shell-shocked India even the odds vs Bazball?


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It’s happened before. India have gone 1-0 down at home, and India have bounced back. This is what India will be telling themselves: ‘We’ve been here before. We trust ourselves to find our way out of this. We trust our methods.’

It’s what they should tell themselves too. Change is a fact of life, a constant that India aren’t blind to – note their efforts to embrace the sweep and all its variants in the lead-up to Visakhapatnam – but there’s a reason why they’ve been so successful in their own conditions for such a long time: their methods work, and work exceedingly well, most of the time.

Hyderabad was one of those exceptions, rare and freakish. India have experienced something very much like it too – Dinesh Chandimal, an almost stroke-for-stroke precursor to Ollie Pope – and they came back to win that series as well.

India have been there, and India have done it. They will trust that they can do it again. And for all of the shockwaves they set off in Hyderabad, England will know coming to Visakhapatam that they will most likely need to keep doing freakish things to repeat that result. Having won the first Test with a frontline spin attack with the collective experience of 36 Tests, they now go into the second with one that’s played a combined three Tests. Three. It’s quite likely that Joe Root will once again bowl more overs than at least one of their theoretically main spinners.

For all that, though, have England had a better chance in India than this one since their triumphant 2012-13 tour? India were a team in transition in those late-Tendulkar days, and if they aren’t already in another full-blown transition now, the number of absences they’re dealing with has left them in a not-too-dissimilar situation.

They’ve already felt the effects of losing experienced batters. Bowlers win Test matches, it’s true, but batters can lose them, in ways that aren’t immediately apparent. India came away from Hyderabad with the impression that they lost that Test match on day two, when their batters, one after another, fell while attempting boundary hits. Eight of their top nine got past 20, and three of them got into the 80s, but none of them got to three figures. The aggression that cost them their wickets also brought them their runs, yes, but you could easily imagine Virat Kohli, in the same conditions and against the same attack, going at a not-dissimilar clip while hitting nothing in the air, and piling up what may have seemed to him a double-hundred for the taking.

And the loss of Jadeja, needless to say, will leave them without half of one of the greatest spin-bowling duos in history. It’s a massive blow, particularly since India are already without Mohammed Shami, whose absence in Hyderabad left them without a supreme wicket-taker in Indian conditions while also – given their seeming lack of faith in Mohammed Siraj – piling extra overs onto their spinners’ shoulders.

It’s a reflection of how good India are that Jadeja’s likely replacement is Kuldeep Yadav, a bowler who’d probably be part of England’s first-choice attack in every Test match, home and away, if they could magically change his nationality. Even so, as good as they are, India are not as good as they could be, and in this lies England’s greatest chance.

Form guide

India LWLDW (last five Tests, most recent first)

England WWDWL

In the spotlight

He averages 21.55, has taken three five-fors in just 14 innings, and was Player of the Match in his most recent Test match, but he’s an Indian spinner in the time of R Ashwin and Jadeja. Kuldeep Yadav has missed 56 of India’s 64 Tests since his debut in 2017, and he’s waited patiently for opportunities like this one. Along the way he’s made himself a more resilient bowler, quicker and harder to sit on the back foot against, while remaining just as deceptive in the air and off the pitch. In some ways he might be just the bowler India need against an England line-up prepared to sweep and reverse sweep everything in its path: a bit more dip, a bit more bounce, and the threat of the ball going in unexpected directions.

He sent down 48 overs in Hyderabad, the most he’s ever bowled in a Test match, and there’s every chance he’ll have to go through a similar workload again. Can Joe Root cope with it? And what effect will it have on his batting?

Team news

India have decisions to make with Rahul and Jadeja out. Kuldeep’s wicket-taking ability or Washington Sundar’s all-round utility? Rajat Patidar’s standing in the hierarchy or Sarfaraz Khan’s unorthodox methods? Is there, perhaps, even a case for Sundar and Kuldeep, with either a batter or a fast bowler – Siraj – missing out?

India (possible): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Yashasvi Jaiswal, 3 Shubman Gill, 4 Shreyas Iyer, 5 Rajat Patidar, 6 Axar Patel, 7 KS Bharat (wk), 8 R Ashwin, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Mohammed Siraj.

England are going 3-1 again, with James Anderson and Shoaib Bashir coming in for Mark Wood and the injured Jack Leach.

England: 1 Zak Crawley, 2 Ben Duckett, 3 Ollie Pope, 4 Joe Root, 5 Jonny Bairstow, 6 Ben Stokes (capt), 7 Ben Foakes (wk), 8 Rehan Ahmed, 9 Tom Hartley, 10 Shoaib Bashir, 11 James Anderson.

Pitch and conditions

On the eve of the match, Ben Stokes suggested the Visakhapatnam pitch might offer a little less turn initially than the one in Hyderabad did, before “footholes and stuff like that […] come into play the further the Test goes”. The sun will bake down, though, so it may not take too much time for the pitch to begin showing wear.

Spinners will bowl the bulk of the overs, but don’t be surprised if the quicks make an impact. Reverse swing came into the picture the last time England played here – Anderson, Stuart Broad and Stokes took 10 of the 20 Indian wickets that fell – and three years later Shami was India’s fourth-innings destroyer against South Africa, taking 5 for 35 on a wearing pitch where the ball frequently kept low.

Stats and trivia

  • Ashwin is four wickets away from becoming the second India bowler to reach the 500 mark in Test cricket.
  • Ashwin (95) is just one wicket behind Bhagwath Chandrasekhar, India’s leading Test wicket-taker against England. Anderson (139) is a distant first on the England-India Test wicket-takers’ list.
  • Jasprit Bumrah, meanwhile, needs four wickets to get to 150 in Tests.
  • Rohit Sharma made centuries in both innings the last time India played a Test in Visakhapatnam. A similar Test this time will help him go past 4000 Test runs. He currently has 3800.
  • Root (11,477) has more Test runs than India’s entire squad in Visakhapatnam (10,702).
  • Anderson is set to play his 14th Test match in India, joining Keith Fletcher, Gordon Greenidge, Clive Lloyd and Ricky Ponting in joint third place in the overseas players’ list, with only Viv Richards (15) and Derek Underwood (16) ahead of them.
  • Anderson is also 10 wickets away from joining Muthiah Muralidaran and Shane Warne in the 700 club.
  • Stokes is unlikely to bowl, but if he does, he’ll know he’s three wickets away from the 200 mark in Tests.
  • Quotes

    “Playing in India, we play a lot of cricket on these tracks. It’s not that we don’t know how to reverse sweep or sweep or paddle. On that particular day, depending upon the situation of the team, we as batters take our calls. And it’s very clear to us to bat with freedom. We’ve also practised some reverse in the first game as well, but then, yes, playing out in the centre is a batter’s individual plan, and if the team demands us to play in a certain way we are definitely up for it.”
    India keeper KS Bharat on whether the batters are planning to use the sweep and reverse sweep more frequently in Visakhapatnam

    “The way in which they set the tone for everybody else but also the way they put the bowlers under a serious amount of pressure with a new ball. A new ball is always the most difficult period, but you know, consistently not only are they able to negate that but they’re also able to get the scoreboard rolling at a very, very good rate, which is a huge thing for our dressing room and our batting line-up as well. And I think it’s pretty obvious [there’s] a difference in height between the both of them and I think they complement each other very, very well. Balls that Zak plays on the front foot, Ducky plays on the back foot. So it’s very tough, I think, for bowlers to settle into a rhythm and settle into a line and length against those two. One’s left-handed, one’s right. So the way in which they complement each other is brilliant. And yes, they get us get us off to a great start and just sort of set the tone for us in a Test.”
    England captain Ben Stokes on the role Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett play at the top of the order

    Karthik Krishnaswamy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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