Normalcy returned for India at Vizag. After playing the catch-up game for the entire first Test, Virat Kohli and Co got back to winning ways in the second. And they did it in style, registering their second biggest win over the visitors. They hardly put a foot wrong. They took the lead in the five-match series. The spinners were back to their best. Captain Kohli looked imperious. And by the end of the Test, England would have already been made to visualise the 'Danger Ahead' sign on their way back to the hotel rooms.
However, before the panic mode sets in – which has happened to most visitors on Indian soil – England need to take a deep breath, sit back and revisit the past. One which whispers in their ears – "Mate, you have bounced back from difficult situations before." One which would keep the negativity away and one which would keep motivation levels high and instill belief.
Flashback to 2012-13: England got off to confidence-crushing start with a nine-wicket hammering at the hands of India in the first of the four-match series in Ahmedabad. What followed was nothing short of sensational as they scripted a dramatic turnaround to win the next two Tests and draw the last one to conjure a special series win.
Two years later, they threw in the towel at Lord's in the post-lunch session on the final day of the second Test and went 0-1 down in the five-match series. What followed was a spirited fightback which saw them absolutely scythe through India in the next three Tests, including two wins by an innings, to clinch the series 3-1.
Then there was that Ashes triumph which started at Edgbaston eleven years ago. After being outclassed at Lord's, they bounced back to bring home the urn after 18 years with a 2-1 win. A series that went down as one of the most memorable and thrilling ones in the history of cricket, saw the birth of a new England – the fighting England. They have done it in the past and the trend hasn't abated.
In both 2012 and 2014, England trailed but ended up winning the series. They are 1-0 down in the current series, and as they head into the Mohali Test, they would look to gain inspiration from the past heroics to turn tables this time as well.
It's not that England have completely wilted under pressure so far. In fact, they have shown way more spine than both South Africa and New Zealand. They gained an upper hand almost throughout the first Test in Rajkot. Then came the gritty fightback on the third day in Vizag, where they bundled India out for 204 in their second innings, and the resolute opening stand that followed just about gave England fans hope for a moment. On both occasions they were short of final push.
"What's giving me belief in actually over 10 days of cricket is that we have competed very well in India, in their conditions," Alastair Cook had said after the second Test loss. "We did show some good skill and fight," he had added.
However, Mohali might just be the venue which provides them the best chance of making a comeback. The Punjab Cricket Association Stadium is one of the few stadiums in India which provides assistance to the fast bowlers. It assists pace and bounce almost uniformly throughout the match.
Over the years the trend has changed, but the surface has always provided some assistance to the pacers. And with the winter setting in, this might give England the much-needed spark on their road to revival. Their pace battery has performed admirably on the tour so far. India can be a difficult place to bowl in for the pacers, but the visitors' pace attack has shown grit and determination. That they have performed well on unfriendliest of tracks would instill even more confidence, considering the fact that their pacers might be in for some help going into the Mohali Test.
James Anderson was the best England bowler in the first innings of the Vizag Test. He bowled consistently well throughout the match, and though it was his first international match in three months, there was no sign of rustiness. But the visitors received a big blow ahead of the Test as Stuart Broad has been ruled out due to injury. He bowled with great character to script England's short resurgence in the second innings at Vizag. A half-fit Broad, who was suffering an injury to the tendons in his right foot, bowled his heart out to help England bundle out India for 204 and provide some hope.
Chris Woakes' bowling niggle coupled with England's rotation meant that he missed out on the Vizag Test but his aggression stood out in Rajkot. He has come out as one of the most improved pacers in the last few years, and will replace Broad. Ben Stokes will need to step up the gas and rediscover the reverse swing which was so effective in Bangladesh. It was the spin attack that turned it around for England four years ago but at the end of the series, then captain MS Dhoni, singled out Anderson as the difference between the two sides. He will once again be the key going into the match. His guile and Woakes' aggression could prove to be decisive in Mohali.
Out of the 40 wickets that fell in the India vs South Africa match in Mohali last year, 34 were scalped by the spinners. That match got over in three days. But it wasn't a minefield, it was just the poor shot selection throughout that brought about batsmen's downfall. So far, the Mohali pitch looks dry with cracks developing. This, coupled with the last match happenings, might put both teams in bit of a quandary about their selections.
Cook cited that the pitch looks a bit dry and he will be in a big dilemma whether to replace Zafar Ansari – who is declared unfit and hasn't had a considerable impact in the two matches – with off spinner Gareth Batty or go with an extra pacer in form of Steven Finn or Jake Ball. England might want to play to their strengths and and add an extra pacer.
One thing England bowlers would like to drastically improve upon is the ability to dismiss the lower order. Time and again, India's lower order has put in match-defining contributions and England would be hoping their bowlers have learnt the lessons this time around.
Cook also confirmed that Jos Buttler will make a comeback to the Test side after a year, replacing Ben Duckett. He will bat at No 7, while Moeen Ali will move to four and Jonny Bairstow will bat at five. The last innings collapse in the Vizag Test might have brought back horror memories of the Dhaka debacle in the loss to Bangladesh. Regular collapses is a big concern and needs ironing out urgently.
India have a fair idea of England's ability to bounce back. Kohli does, but he's not looking too far ahead. "We know the ability (to bounce back) that they have but we are not thinking about the past. We are not the side which thinks what happened the last time they came or the last time we went there. You are already not in the game as soon as you start thinking like that. We believe in our abilities more than we analyse the opposition," Kohli said after the second match. "The focus has been on strengthening our qualities and understanding things that we need to work on and that's all we want to do," he added.
Although it was a complete performance in Vizag, there are some concerns that need to be addressed ahead of the third Test. The over-dependence on lower-order needs to vanish. The second innings batting problems have been camouflaged thanks to the big first innings totals. Quite often it has provided a scare. Ajinkya Rahane needs to get going as well, after just 63 runs from four innings.
The one thing that will delight India is the performance of their pacers Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav, who have provided crucial breakthroughs at crunch moments.
Kohli will be caught in two minds, whether to play Jayant Yadav who impressed on debut or replace him with Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The UP pacer gave a glimpse of the destruction he can cause in swinging and seaming conditions, against New Zealand in Kolkata. All-rounder Hardik Pandya is also an option. It will be a big moment for Parthiv Patel, who will make his comeback to the Test side after eight years, in place of the injured Wriddhiman Saha. Given that it might be just a one-off chance, Parthiv will be under tremendous pressure to perform to stay in contention going forward.
'The toss will be crucial,' has become a mandatory statement/information in previews these days. Cook asserted its importance after the second match. "We are still very much in the series. A couple of good tosses will help that, there's no doubt about that," Cook had said.
India haven't lost a Test in last ten matches at the PCA stadium, Mohali, and have won the last three. Overall, they have won six, drawn five and lost just once – way back in 1994.
"You have to get the India players out of their comfort zone, which is what we managed to do four years ago after the opening defeat," Nick Compton, who was a part of the 2012-13 winning English team, wrote in his column in ESPNCricinfo. Well, memories of past heroics, a toss win, a seamer-friendly track and the pace battery operating at its best might just help the visitors get the hosts out of their comfort zone.
With stats inputs from Sampath Bandarupalli
Published Date: Nov 25, 2016 02:28 pm | Updated Date: Nov 25, 2016 02:28 pm