A flurry of English wickets at the fag end of Day One of the 3rd Test in Mohali, has given India an advantage which they weren't expected to have when Alastair Cook managed to break Virat Kohli's successful streak with the toss. The toss has proven to be crucial in earlier Test matches as the team winning it has opted to bat first and make the most of the batsman-friendly conditions on the first two days of the match.
Some disciplined bowling from the likes of Umesh Yadav, coupled with poor shot selection meant England blew that advantage when they laboured to 92/4 at lunch. However in the second session, aided by the easing wicket, Johnny Bairstow made the Indians sweat with a battling innings of 89, that helped the visitors reach a respectable total of 268/8.
While the Indians would be feeling slightly disappointed to let England off the hook after lunch, they would have taken this situation at the start of the day. In addition, having England bat early on Day Two works in India's favour. The cool weather in Mohali assists pace bowling in the morning. The ball was doing quite a bit for the Indian seamers in the morning on Day One, especially in the first 15-20 overs of the day.
"There is still something in the wicket. It’s a bit cold and there’s some moisture in the wicket. The ball is moving," Umesh Yadav who impressed the most among India's quickies said at the post-day press conference.
England's pace attack would be difficult to negotiate on this track during the start of play, but with their batsman most likely consuming a good part of those overs on Day Two, the English bowlers might not get the opportunity to have a go at the Indian top order during the morning session.
However, it won't be a smart thing for India to let the English batsmen play out the first few overs as any score above 300 would give England a morale boost. So it will be key for India to skittle the remaining England batsman as early as possible and trust their batting to deal with the threat of the English pace attack in that first session.
A late injury to KL Rahul meant India had to draft in debutante Karun Nair in the last minute. Earlier, another injury to wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha forced the hosts to bring in Parthiv Patel. After Rahul's injury it is believed that Patel will open the innings with Murali Vijay. The 31-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman is making a return to international cricket after 8 years and will have his task cut out if he has to face the likes of James Anderson on a pitch that had a bit of juice for the fast bowlers.
So it will be interesting who India opts to open their innings with. Will they go for an in-form batsman in Cheteshwar Pujara or throw Patel straight into the mix? Playing the former, who has been in sublime form would make much more sense for two reasons. Firstly, Pujara will be better-equipped to deal with the likes of James Anderson having played him recently in the first two Tests. He is also in excellent form and seems to have set a price on his wicket. Once settled, the English bowlers have found it very difficult to dislodge him.
Secondly the wicket eases out after lunch as it was seen on Day One and it will much better for the likes of Patel and Nair who are trying to find their feet in the team to bat at that time. Former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly has pushed for Pujara to be promoted up the order. "I feel India could open with Pujara, have Karun Nair bat at No 3. Pujara has opened the innings for India in Sri Lanka and scored 150 there," the former Indian captain told ESPNCricinfo in a video interview.
For India on Day Two, the first session holds great importance. If they can bowl England out for less than 300, and get to lunch without losing more than one wicket, they will build a platform to take control of the third test. Batting becomes a lot easier as the ball gets older in Mohali and the form and skills of India's batting line-up can come very handy in the final two sessions if they have a good platform in the first.
"It’s a bit difficult when the ball gets old as you won’t get pace and carry with the ball getting soft. The spinners are not getting enough turn. It’s easy to play spinners. The wicket hasn't changed much. Some balls may have gone up and down but I think the pace of the wicket is same," Umesh said after the first day's play came to an end.
England always had a run rate of over three runs per over when their batsman were playing despite losing wickets at regular intervals. The quick outfield also played a part in that. So India will be hoping they can make the most of the nature of the pitch, unlike England who lost wickets thanks to some poor shot selection.
The hosts are in a better position on Day One and if they have a good first session, their position at the end of Day Two will be even stronger, if not envious.