Rain has washed out the opening day of England’s final pre-Test series warm-up match in Sri Lanka.
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England drew first blood as they beat India by 31 runs. It was a tightly contested match as fortune fluctuated from one session to another.
Both teams had the upper hand during different stages but, ultimately, it was an Indian batting collapse that gave England the lead.
India, chasing England’s 287 in the first innings, started cautiously at 0/50, before 20-year-old Sam Curran began the collapse to break the backbone of Indian batting.
Virat Kohli stood tall amidst all the happening around him to score 200 runs for the match. Surprisingly, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav, the number ten and eleven batsmen, showed the stomach for the fight which was lacking in the top order.
Ajinkya Rahane looked so out of sorts that they will hope it’s a mere blip on the radar.
So, does India have a chance to come back from the loss in the first Test? Or does England pile on the misery for?
One factor that will keep India in the hunt is Kohli. The knock he played in the last Test was breaking the limits mentally and physically while surpassing the barriers in the form of swing bowling during different stages of the game.
Dawid Malan dropped him, but you do need the luck to go your way and good batsmen cash in.
After overcoming nerves of the previous failure and mental demons playing on his mind, Kohli roared back to get that big score. As this series progresses and, he becomes more acclimatised to the conditions, expect him to get better.
Virat Kohli will show the world on this tour and at the World Cup next year why his name will be taken in same breath as Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara.
But captaincy is what he needs to reflect on. As Nasser Hussien said in one of the interviews, when Curran came to bat, Ravichandran Ashwin – who averages 19 against left-handed batsman – was taken out of the attack.
That was a questionable move and so was dropping an experienced player in England conditions in Cheteshwar Pujara.
Kohli needed a guy who can score but, if not, hang on with him – and Pujara could have done that.
He made the similar mistake of dropping Rahane for the first two Tests against South Africa earlier this year. He needs to show consistency in backing his players. Pujara should get in the team for the Lord’s Test.
Rahane looks off the boil in the first match of any series, but memories of Lord’s – where he scored 103 on a green top – should motivate him to make it a big one this time around.
Rahane has been India’s best batsman overseas and here is the time to show it.
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Shikhar Dhawan gets himself to 20s, 30s and doesn’t go on to get a big one.
His shot selections have brought his downfall. Dhawan needs to curb his instinct and take a few shots off his armory which won’t always work on seaming pitches. His experience should help him.
Murali Vijay was supposed to be the next big player for India when he toured last time in England but, with time, the form and consistency have started to dwindle which sees his average languish in the early 40s.
Now is the time to stand up and use all the experience of 58 Tests to prolong his career.
Dinesh Karthik showed great fight in the last hour of day three, and he would be expected to replicate that for rest of the tour. His keeping will be tested at Lord’s, but he has passed the wicketkeeping test.
The Indian batting, on the whole, looked underprepared. Lack of match practice could be the reason, as India cut short a practice match by one day and another day practice session was washed away due to rain.
With more practice, the Indian batting should be in better shape to England’s bowling next time around.
Ishant, Shami and Umesh took some time to find right length but did well on both the occasion. Ashwin showed the world why he is one of the best in the last match.
His challenge will be steeper come the Lord’s Test, and that will make his legacy. With new action and county experience, Ashwin looks to make amends for the previous failure in a tour of England. Kuldeep Yadav should get a game if there is even slight assistance for the spinner.
The biggest question mark is Hardik Pandya; he batted well in the second innings showing the fight the top order should have, but his bowling still leaves a lot to be desired.
With pacers and spinners doing well, should India get another specialist batsman in? Or do they bring in Yadav and ask Ashwin to take more responsibility with the bat? Or, does Kohli back Hardik?
Hardik’s knock should give him great confidence, and we might see better batsmen in the next Test. Whatever the selection may be, the knock from Hardik in second innings should have pleased Virat, and it shows the conditions are not unplayable like the top order made them look.
England does have the momentum, but they haven’t beaten an Asian team since 2011, and the absence of Ben Stokes will hurt them. Chris Woakes or Moeen Ali coming in strengthens one department and England will miss the character that Stokes as he showed by removing Kohli in the second innings to seal the match for England.
The top order and middle order, apart from Joe Root, has a lot to prove and given the way the Indians are bowling it, won’t be easy.
With Kohli as skipper, the Indian team has come back strong after losing the first Test in series against Sri Lanka in 2015 and Australia in 2017 to win the series 2-1.
While winning the series looks like a farfetched dream, expect India to come back strongly and put up a more professional show.
The loss is just a calm before the storm, and the sun seems to be shining brightly on Kohli. Expect him to show why he is known to be a determined soldier.
Though it might be pragmatic to put money on England, there is not a lot to choose between the sides and the Indian batting, which will get more used to the conditions, should be able to stand up against the English pace attack.
India’s bowling will do a good job. Expect an Indian fightback.