England were not given even the slimmest of chances coming into the Test series against India, especially after their horror show in the second Test in Bangladesh, in which they lost 10 wickets for 64 runs in a single session of play. There were doomsayers who predicted the Englishmen would be consumed by Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, much the same way India's spin duo devoured South Africa and New Zealand.
But Alastair Cook's side were not going to go down without a fight. They didn't come to India to become easy fodder. And after the first two days of the first Test at Rajkot, England have made their intentions clear. With three centuries and a mammoth 537 runs on the board, they have the Indians on the mat in their own backyard, with a fantastic opportunity on day three to go for the kill.
England had made the hosts bite the dust when they had last come calling in 2012, winning the four-match Test series 2-1. The 2016 series has also started well for Cook's men, as Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes punished the hosts for some lacklustre bowling and lethargic fielding. All three scored hundreds, as England became the first visiting team to cross 300 in India, since Australia did it in 2013. England's 500 at Rajkot was also the first time that a side could amass this much against the hosts in their own backyard since England themselves did it in 2012.
England singled out India's leading spinner and big hope Ashwin for some harsh treatment. He leaked as many as 167 runs in his 46 overs, only the third time that the ace spinner had conceded more than 160 runs in a Test innings.
If there is a team that can stand toe to toe with India in India, it is England. Their batsmen have done their job, and it's now up to England's bowlers to ensure Indian batsmen don't get away. Openers Murali Vijay and Gautam Gambhir had given their side a solid start on day two, and England's pacers will look to come hard at them in the opening session of day three, and utilise the juice in the wicket to get some swing.
India have gone into this match with five specialist batsmen, and their batting order looks a bit thin. If England can get a couple of quick wickets on day three, wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha and all-rounders Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja could come in earlier than they are used to, which would apply more pressure on the Indians.
Scars have started to appear on the pitch, which will undergo further wear and tear and dry up under the heat of the sun, and spinners will start to have a bigger say. England have fielded three spinners in Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Zafar Ansari, and they are already generating turn off the rough. On day two, Ali beat Vijay all ends up, but missed his off-stump by only a few inches, while a Rashid delivery turned and bounced and had Gambhir in all kinds of trouble.
Ideally, England would want to dismiss India cheaply on day three to enforce the follow-on. Alternatively, they would like to get a lead of at least 100 runs, score a quick 300 on day four, and set India a target of around 400 in about 110 overs on a crumbling day four/five pitch against three able spinners.
On Friday, however, the pitch will not have any real gremlins, and batting would become easier in the afternoon. The three England spinners would have to probe away, nevertheless, and Stokes would also have to bowl a bit of reverse swing later in the day to trouble the Indians.
What England would not want is India's openers consolidating the team's position further, which would then set up a fantastic launch pad for Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rahane to take over. So, the first session will be extremely important, and if England can get Kohli in the first session, they will go a step further in sealing the contest.
England's batsmen have given their team a massive advantage, and if their bowlers can get a few early Indian wickets, England will be firm favourites to win the contest.
First Published On : Nov 11, 2016 10:12 IST