Virat Kohli’s elevation to test captaincy triggered a much-needed change in mindset among the players. For far too long, the air around the test side lacked intent. Poor technique combined with an attitude along the lines of ‘let’s wait for the opponent to make a mistake’ saw our fortunes dwindle in the longest format. However, Kohli’s infectious energy, attacking mindset and superlative batting prowess has thrusted India to 6 consecutive test series victories with Bangladesh being the latest victims.
After the coin finally favored India, Vijay and Rahul strode onto what was an excellent pitch for batting. Unfortunately, Rahul was dismissed in the very first over which continued India’s opening woes. As they have done so many times over the last few years, Vijay and Pujara began laying the foundation for an enormous first innings total. Pujara’s fall for a disciplined 83 brought the Indian captain to the middle. Kohli looked extremely convincing right from ball one and before you knew it, he had brought up his 16th test century. Vijay was solid at the other end and his love for the opening test of a series continued as he scored his 9th century. Backed by the vociferous crowd in Hyderabad, Kohli continued with his merry ways and eased to his 4th double hundred before falling for 204. Saha, making a comeback, became the first Indian wicketkeeper to score a test century both at home and outside the subcontinent while Rahane and Jadeja made useful contributions which propelled India to a mammoth 687/6.
In reply, Bangladesh made a spirited effort. Mushfiqur Rahim played a stellar knock, fighting his way to a highly commendable 127. Shakib and Mehdi Hasan struck half centuries as the Tigers batted for close to 130 overs for their 388. With the bowlers being tired, Kohli chose against enforcing the follow on. India lost both openers cheaply in the quest for quick runs but Kohli and Pujara steadied the ship with some percentage cricket. Pujara was particularly impressive, scoring a brisk 54* of just 58 balls. The rest chipped in as India declared at 159/4 leaving Bangladesh to chase down an improbable 459 for victory.
Anyone who thought the visitors would crumble in the 4th innings were left ruing their predictions as they once again fought hard. They toiled for more than a hundred overs but the ask was just too much. Ashwin and Jadeja, the top 2 test bowlers, bowled tight lines and were always at the batsmen. They finished with 4 wickets apiece as India thrashed their opponents by 208 runs. The bigger test lies ahead as the Aussies are set to play 4 tests and Kohli will be gunning for a 7th straight series triumph.
The new year brought along a change in leadership for the Indian cricket team. M.S Dhoni, India’s most successful skipper pulled the plug on his captaincy stint which elevated his heir, Virat Kohli to the helm. Kohli had already tasted quite a lot of success leading the test team but limited overs cricket poses an entirely different set of challenges. The three ODIs against England were India’s only fixtures in this format ahead of the Champions Trophy in June and hence it was pivotal to make these games count. Going into the third and final game, India have not only sealed the series but have also ticked a lot of boxes.
The first match, played in Pune witnessed a stunning chase from the Indians. After Roy, Root and Stokes had powered England to a mammoth 350, the Barmy Army had the Men in Blue stuttering at 63-4. This is when the local lad, Kedar Jadhav, joined his skipper in the middle and the two of them struck scintillating centuries to help India win by 3 wickets. The second game at Cuttack saw the Indian top order struggle again. Then came a heartwarming partnership between two stalwarts of Indian cricket. Yuvraj Singh scored a magnificent 150, his first ODI century in nearly 6 years while Dhoni bludgeoned a stunning 134 which lifted India to an enormous 381. In reply, the under fire English skipper, Eoin Morgan struck a superlative century but the asking rate was just too much as his team fell short by 15 runs.
Though the series is sealed, there will definitely be no letup in intensity from Virat’s men. As he stated earlier, they will be treating every game as a knock out and will look to whitewash the Englishmen. Barring the openers, the rest of the batting is more or less set for the Champions Trophy. Kohli, Yuvi, Dhoni and Jadhav will look to continue their fine run. Eden Gardens will present one last opportunity for Shikhar Dhawan to seal his spot. While Rohit Sharma is expected to open once he returns from injury, the other slot has 3 potential takers in Dhawan, Rahul and Rahane. The management might want to give Rahane a chance along with Dhawan in Kolkata. On the bowling side, Bhuvi, Ashwin and Jaddu bowled admirably in Cuttack and will once again be expected to deliver the goods. Pandya was erratic in the last game but will be looking to bounce back in the next one which is expected to offer more to the seamers. His role as an allrounder who can clock 140 kph augurs well for India ahead of 8 team extravaganza in England in June. The visitors on the other hand have not yet won a game on this tour and the desperation will be mounting. They have done well in both the games this year but have let India off the hook at key instances. Morgan will want to avoid a whitewash and get some momentum going ahead of the 3 match T20 series.
India and England, after a good week’s rest, are set to resume the action when they meet at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai for the penultimate test starting tomorrow. There are different yet significant things on the line for both teams coming into the fourth test. India of course are 2-0 up and will be looking to seal the series with a game to spare. This will give them their 5th successive test series victory. The visitors on the other hand are fighting for survival, they have won the last 3 test series played against India and will definitely fight to keep this one alive.
Both sides have been hampered by a lot of injuries. For the hosts, Ajinkya Rahane is the latest entrant into this club. Rahane was hit on the hand while practicing in the nets and that resulted in an avulsion fracture which will sideline him for the last 2 tests. Saha has still not recovered from the strained left thigh which forced him to miss the previous test and this means we will get to see more from the pocket rocket, Parthiv Patel. India’s pace spearhead, Shami, is also nursing a sore knee and is a doubtful starter. If he does miss out, it’ll be a huge blow for the hosts as Shami has been extremely impressive in this series. K L Rahul is set to open the innings with Murali Vijay with Pujara and Kohli to follow. Manish Pandey has been drafted in for Rahane but Karun Nair, who was unfortunately left stranded by his captain on his test debut last week, might just benefit from Rahane’s injury and make it to the playing XI. Ashwin and Jaddu will as always be expected to deliver the goods with both bat and ball. It’ll be interesting to see if Kohli drops Jayant Yadav for an extra seamer or backs his young offie to come good on a track which is expected to offer good bounce.
England have their own problems. Haseeb Hameed, the young English opener, showed a lot of fight and character right throughout the series and even played with an injured finger during his 59* in Mohali. Unfortunately, he will miss the remaining tests and Keaton Jennings is set to partner his captain at the top of the order. Cook himself has been short of runs and the onus will be on him to make sure that his side does not fall behind in the first innings. Ben Stokes has been effective with both bat and ball while Bairstow has been racking up the runs. England will hope that Broad is fit enough to start as his presence and combination with Anderson will provide a huge boost for the visitors. The pitch is likely to assist the quicks initially with spinners set to play a role from Day 3 onwards which means that both teams will have to think a lot about their combination. England have won their last two matches at the Wankhede and will hope to extend that streak and stay alive in the series.
When Alastair Cook called it right during the toss, there was a huge wave of joy which spread through the English camp, their supporters and the media. Cook had openly expressed the desire to bat first, put up a huge first innings total and then apply pressure on India who will have to cope with batting in the 4th innings. After all, the common notion is that this is how India always wins Test matches at home. Win the toss, put up a big score, have the opponents play catch up and unleash their spinners who wreak havoc during the last 2 days. Further, the England captain had gained significant confidence in this tactic after India’s uncertain batting display on the 5th day of the Rajkot test. Kohli’s boys though showed that they were a team which had enough skill to take the equation of ‘toss ‘out of the game and in the process registered what must be an extremely satisfying victory at the PCA stadium in Mohali.
Whenever you win the toss and opt to bat, the skipper expects his team to put up a huge first innings total. This requirement is amplified in subcontinental conditions as run scoring becomes exponentially difficult in the 3rd & 4th innings. That is perhaps where England lost the plot and possibly the match as a collective bowling effort from the hosts saw them slump to 268/8 on Day 1 and eventually fold up for 283. In reply, India were cruising at 148/2 before a tinge of madness along with one perfect googly saw them slip to 156/5. Kohli romped to another half century but when hell fell for 62, India were precariously placed at 204/6. England were breathing again and would have even hoped for a first innings lead. This is when the hosts’ spin trio took over and showed their prowess with the bat. Ravi Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Jayant Yadav struck impressive half centuries to give India a vital 134 run lead. Ashwin was all class during his 113-ball innings which fetched him 72 runs. Jadeja faced more than 100 balls in a test innings for the first time but fell short of a well-deserved maiden test century by 10 runs. Jayant Yadav showed tremendous determination as he notched up his first test fifty to continue his fairytale beginning to test cricket.
England knew they had a mountain to climb. Their woes were exacerbated by a finger injury to Hameed which meant Root had to open along with his captain. Any hopes of an English fightback rested firmly on Cook’s shoulders. The captain’s majestic record clearly shows that he is one of the best foreign batsman to have laid foot in the subcontinent. Unfortunately, Cook was extremely tentative and was living dangerously. He survived 2 LBW reviews but almost immediately found his stumps shattered courtesy a beauty from India’s premier offie. Ashwin was again in business when he deceived Moeen Ali in the air and Yadav pouched the checked loft gleefully at mid-on. Yadav removed Bairstow and Ashwin came back to remove Stokes in the very last over of the day to leave England reeling at 78/4. It was almost too easy for the Indians on Day 4 as barring a fighting 59* from Hameed, none of the others held their own as the visitors set a meagre target of 103 for the hosts. Parthiv Patel hit a superlative 67* of just 54 deliveries as India romped home by 8 wickets to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series. The next match will be played in Mumbai from December 8th and the Indians will be looking to seal the series with one game to spare.
After a comprehensive series win against the Kiwis, the Men in Blue knew that Alastair Cook’s English side would provide a much sterner challenge. On a flat deck in Rajkot, Cook broke India’s pattern of batting first and his side amassed a mammoth 537. India were always playing catch up and eventually had to dig themselves out of a tricky position on the fifth day. Though our batting stuttered, that last day experience will do India a lot of good in the long run. Order was restored in Vizag as Kohli called it right and with the help of Pujara, guided India to a huge first innings total. Ravi Ashwin grabbed his first 5-fer against the Barmy Army which gave India a 200-run lead. England went for lunch on Day 4 knowing that they had to bat five sessions to eke out an improbable draw. Both the openers, the captain himself and young Hameed, showed tremendous skill and grit as England made it tough for the hosts. Cook will be banking on that fight and spirit as his side prepares for another grueling encounter at Mohali.
India go into the clash without their regular keeper Saha who is injured. Parthiv Patel is set to play his first test in 8 years and will be looking to make the most of this opportunity. Though Bhuvi is in the squad at the expense of Gambhir, it is extremely unlikely that Kohli will tinker with the team that won in Vizag (getting in Mishra for Jayant Yadav is worth a thought considering England will shed 2 left handers for Butler and Woakes but the offie’s strong performance on debut with both bat and ball might help him retain his place). In the past, the pitch at Mohali usually had a good cover of green which meant that there was always something for the fast bowlers. As is the case with most tracks in India, spinners came into the fray from the second half of Day 3. But the recent clash against South Africa at this ground took everyone by surprise. 201 was the highest score across the 4 innings as the track was offering significant turn right from the first day. The pitch for tomorrow’s game is expected to be on similar lines and this makes the toss extremely crucial. India were not comfortable batting 4th on a decent Rajkot track and if things don’t go their way, they’ll face a more severe test on this lively pitch. The Indian spinners are expected to do well irrespective of how the toss plays out but Kohli will hope he gets to bat first in order to protect his batsmen and to give Ashwin and Co. a crack at the opposition in the fourth innings.
Kohli’s counterpart will also be hoping that his side bats first and then gets the opportunity to test the Indian batting with their spinners. England have already made two confirmed changes with Jos Butler coming in for the struggling Ben Duckett and Chris Woakes replacing the injured Stuart Broad. There might be a third change with Gareth Batty coming in for Zafar Ansari. England will take confidence from their come from behind series victory the last time they toured India. Though this side is not as experienced as the previous one was, Cook has enough reasons to believe that his side can turn the tables in the third test. If the first 2 games are any indicator, this one also promises to be a cracker of a contest between two very good sides.