Getting into a winning habit is one of the best feelings in sport. You get into a confident mould and just look to carry forward the momentum. There is just one thing in mind - winning. Maintaining a winning streak is a challenge but more challenging is recuperating from a stutter because you are not used to setbacks.
Playing India in India can be a nightmare for any visiting team, for India is a brute force at home. Before the Rajkot Test against England, they had won five matches in a row. But for the washout in Bangalore against South Africa where just one day's play was possible, they would have achieved a 13-Test winning streak. Such has been their domination at home. They are ruthless, relentless and have hardly given the opposition a sniff in the past three years.
India on the back foot in their own backyard is perhaps rarer than a Shahid Afridi defence. However, at Rajkot, they had their backs to the wall, after a long time. Kohli isn't used to losing the toss at home, but he lost it for the first time at Rajkot. The habit was broken. India weren't used to playing the catching up game. But they had to do that throughout the first Test. They weren't used to experiencing scares. But they had one in the fourth innings. These were rare scenarios for the hosts and they looked a tad nervous.
"Well, at least we know how to draw games now," Kohli said after the match. This can be taken in a positive sense but it will be interesting to see how quickly India can manage to get into that dominant mould once again against a confident England side.
This was their first draw in 13 completed Tests at home. The visitors outclassed the hosts in almost every department. Their pacers bowled better than their Indian counterparts. The English spinners, surprisingly, did likewise. Their batsmen also applied themselves better. Add to that the host' listlessness on the field and you do get a sense that India underperformed.
England coach Trevor Bayliss described it as England's best performance during his tenure and it characterised England's resilience. The visitors will go into the Vizag Test with confidence and momentum on their side and India would have to up the ante big time. The pitch will again be the centre of attention. Kohli wasn't impressed with the grass on the Rajkot surface, which started to provide assistance to the spinners only from the fag end of the day three. It rendered Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja relatively ineffective. But Kohli might be in for some relief as BCCI curator Kasturi Sriram has suggested that the Vizag track won't have much grass and will offer turn from the second day itself.
"There will not be much grass and we should expect the ball to turn from lunch on Day 2," Sriram said, adding that there had not been any instruction from the team think tank. "Yesterday, it was cold and today it's drastically hot and humid and the wicket appears dry now. We will see how it is on the eve of the match," Sriram added.
During the fifth and final match of the ODI series against New Zealand, the Vizag track did offer considerable turn in the second innings and India managed to bowl the Kiwis out for just 79 to clinch the series. Leg-spinner Amit Mishra starred with a fifer. India would be hoping for a similar kind of pitch. Kohli made it clear what kind of pitch he was expecting.
“Generally in Vizag, pitch has always been something that helps the spinners. So I expect the pitch to play similarly, in the one-dayer here (against New Zealand), the spinners got a few wickets. But at the same time, the quick bowlers also had some assistance early on," Kohli said in the pre-match conference.
“It’s a wicket where spinners will find it really nice to bowl on and expect the same going into the game. As I mentioned in Rajkot as well, I was surprised to see that much grass on the wicket. I hope it’s not the case this time around in Vizag because we want to focus on our strengths and play the cricket that we have as a team at home and put the pressure on the opposition,” he added.
However, the Indian spinners would still need to put in an improved showing as compared to that in Rajkot. The trio of Ashwin, Mishra and Jadeja had a combined average of 57.88 and economy rate of 3.45, and took nine wickets between them. Mishra had a tough time and went at 4.32 runs per over and often struggled to get his length right. But considering that there are chances that the pitch will assist turn and his ODI heroics against New Zealand, Mishra might retain his place in the starting eleven. "I do have the confidence of the fifer I took against New Zealand in Vizag and my preparations will only get better come the second Test," Mishra told BCCI.tv
Opening partnership is another concern for the hosts, though Gautam Gambhir and Murali Vijay added a fifty-plus stand in the first innings. India's opening pairs haven't done too well in the past couple of years. There haven't been a single century opening partnership since 5 November 2015 and the average has been a mediocre 31.94. India received a boost ahead of the second Test as KL Rahul was declared fit after recovering from a hamstring injury. He seems sufficiently warmed up with scores of 76 and 106 against Rajasthan in the Ranji Trophy. The middle order again let the team down in the first Test and the lower order came to the rescue. It's high time, therefore, that the middle order shows some consistency. Just one change is expected in the second Test with Rahul replacing Gambhir.
With all the talk before the start of the series being about a whitewash of England, this can be considered a dream start for the visitors. The most crucial thing Alastair Cook did was to win the toss and then followed it up with a solid batting performance.
England put up a consistent performance throughout the match but they would look for improvement in the fielding department as they too dropped four catches. Their batsmen looked assured in the face of India's spin threat. The emergence of 19-year-old Haseeb Hameed was the biggest positive for England and even a shaky and struggling Cook managed to score a century in the second innings.
The English spinners impressed, picking up 13 wickets at 33.30. Pacers Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad bowled well on a docile surface. Woakes, in particular, was impressive and bowled his heart out along with some hostility and aggression. However, England have received a slight concern a day before the second Test as Woakes is suffering from a bowling niggle and he might be replaced by pacer James Anderson who will make his comeback to the side after three months. They look a well balanced side and England would look to maintain the grip on the proceedings.
Both the teams would also be looking to make a better use of the DRS.
It's a special occasion for the Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy ACA-VDCA stadium as it will be hosting its first Test and will become the 24th Test venue of India. India have played seven international matches (six ODIs and one T20I) here so far and lost only one.
England will go into the match with a slight psychological advantage and this will be a real test of India's ability to bounce back especially after breaking of the winning habit.