Cricket

After Australia, India's chance to conquer England as hosts search for batting answers in Manchester

Kohli's team has been riding a fearless ride through the challenging terrains and after Australia, now they have the chance to conquer England as well.

After Australia, India's chance to conquer England as hosts search for batting answers in Manchester

Kohli (L) is on the verge of becoming the first Indian captain to win a series both in Australia and England. AP

"It's absolutely a great momentum booster because we've been here for a long time and now this gives us even more motivation to try and win the next one as well," Virat Kohli said after the Oval Test win.

Two years ago Kohli's team did what the previous ones couldn't – conquer Australia. A year later they went there and beat them again and in the process, breached the fortress Gabba which no team had managed in 32 years. Beating Australia in Australia is a gargantuan task. None of the previous captains managed to achieve that feat. Kohli did. And now he is on the verge of becoming the first Indian captain to win a series both in Australia and England. Series wins in SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand Australia) countries have been rare occurrences. India haven't won a series in South Africa. The last time they won a series in New Zealand was way back in 2009. Overall, they have won just two of eleven series in New Zealand. They have won just three of 19 series in England.

India have often capitulated on England tours in the last 10 years, they were hammered 0-4 in 2011, in 2014, they took a 1-0 lead at Lord's but then came crashing down t a 3-1 defeat. This Kohli side battled hard in 2018 but lost the series 1-4 in 2018. The scoreline didn't show how competitive they were. However, they didn't seize the moments of ascendancy and that hurt them. Now, they are not falling in a heap. Instead, they are scripting memorable come from behind victories. In this series, they have capitalised on the important moments and it has reflected in their results. Kohli's team has been riding fearlessly through the challenging terrains and after Australia, they now have a chance to conquer England as well.

They are 2-1 up in the series as they head to the final stop – Old Trafford, Manchester. And it's that momentum achieved in another epic win at The Oval that can propel their pursuit of a series win.

Nerves fluttered around in Manchester on the eve of the match as clouds of COVID-19 hovered over the Test with India's assistant physio Yogesh Parmar testing positive. The team's practice session was cancelled with the players confined to their rooms. The fate of the Test hung in balance. However, the nerves appeased a bit with all 21 players returning negative in RT-PCR tests late in the evening. It means that the chances of the Test going ahead have increased.

For a large portion of the Oval Test, India were playing the catching up game. They gave away a 99-run lead in the first innings and then England were 100/0 in chase of 368. Then they scripted a dramatic turnaround. In the flattest of conditions, they ran through the English line-up in just over two sessions to take the lead in the series. They put on an exhibition of skills in front of a packed crowd.

India had rested their two senior bowlers in Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma and their reinforcements, Shardul Thakur and Umesh Yadav made a significant impact. It was a testament to the bench strength they have built over the last few years. Almost everyone contributed in the match.

Cheteshwar Pujara seems to be getting his form back after initial struggles while Rishabh Pant played a mature and crucial knock of 50 off 106 balls in the second innings after a string of low scores.

As they head to Old Trafford, they probably have just one concern performance wise – the form of Ajinkya Rahane. He's averaged just 15.57 in this series with just one half-century. And has gone through a lean patch in the last one year. Since that Melbourne Test in 2020 December, he's gone century less for 19 innings and has averaged just 19.57. However, he seems to have the team management's backing. With Pujara coming good with more opportunities, the thinking process in Rahane's case seems to be similar. During the Oval Test, batting coach Vikram Rathour had said that players need to be backed during tough times and they were hoping that Rahane will get back to form and play a major role.

It seems like Rahane will retain his place in the side but there will be pressure to deliver.  In case he misses out, India have the option of going with Hanuma Vihari or Suryakumar Yadav.

Ideally, India wouldn't want to change the winning combination. In a series decider, they would like to play their best eleven but there is a bit of a dilemma as well. Whether to rest Jasprit Bumrah or not? He's played all four Tests. And in the seven innings so far, he's sent down 151 overs, the most by any Indian bowler in the series. With a packed schedule for the next two months which starts with the IPL followed by the T20 World Cup, workload management becomes an important factor which Kohli had also emphasised upon before the Oval Test. It's a tough call with the series win on the horizon. Shami has recovered from his niggles and might replace Bumrah in case the team management decides to rest Bumrah or Siraj who has also played all four Tests.

There is no clarity over Rohit (knee injury) and Pujara's (ankle injury) fitness. In case Rohit misses out, one of Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal or Abhimanyu Easwaran will replace him. If Pujara is ruled out, Vihari and Yadav will again come into the fray.

There is a forecast for rain in the match with conditions expected to remain overcast. In the last 10 years, Old Trafford has had the second-worst average for spinners among the English venues. In the same period, the pacers have had the third-best average – 27.81. But there are instances where spinners have taken five-fors in the past. West Indies' Roston Chase did it in July last year. Moeen Ali had one against South Africa in 2017. The track assists spin as the Test progresses and it will be interesting to see if at all Ashwin finally gets a chance on this tour. If conditions are dry, reverse swing might come into play again.

England have committed similar mistakes which India did on their last visit to the English soil. They haven't seized the moments of ascendancy. At Lord's and The Oval, they were ahead for large parts in the Test but couldn't maintain sustained pressure and stranglehold.

Root has demanded a ruthless approach, especially from the batsmen. Their batting has blown hot and cold. On a beautiful batting track, they posted a lead of 99 in the first innings which wasn't enough and they completely crumbled in the second innings after a 100-run opening stand. They need to stop this rut of collapses which have occurred far too often.

They need more output from Rory Burns, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, and Moeen Ali who have averaged 26.28, 26.14, 14.40 and 16.60 respectively. Batting consistency and big partnerships are the need of the hour. Not just that, they need to be clinical with their catching as well. Six catches were dropped at The Oval, including Rohit's twice in the second innings. He went on to hit a crucial century. It's been a long-standing problem which they need to sort out as soon as possible.

There will be some tired legs in that dressing room as well. They bowled 211 overs in the Oval Test, 148 of them in the second innings. James Anderson (163) and Ollie Robinson (166) have played all the Tests and bowled 329 overs between them in eight innings, which comes down to around 21 overs per innings. Ahead of the match, Root said that they haven't taken a decision on the two pacers yet and might leave it late to see how they shape up post the two days of recovery, along with inputs from the medical team. If in case they decide to rest one of them, Mark Wood, who has recovered from his shoulder injury will come in. Root confirmed that Jos Buttler will be back in the side after missing the fourth Test to attend the birth of his second child. This means that either Bairstow or Pope, who hit 81 in the first innings at The Oval, will have to make way.

Root has demanded a ruthless approach, especially from the batsmen. AP

Root has demanded a ruthless approach, especially from the batsmen. AP

England have included Jack Leach again in the squad but Root maintained that Moeen is the number one spinner and Leach's inclusion will depend on the wicket and the conditions.

"I've not seen the pitch as yet but what you can get sometimes here at Old Trafford, it can spin and that can be an option we have to look at with two spinners," Root was quoted as saying by Cricbuzz. said. He (Leach) has done some fine things for England, you look at how he has performed this winter and even before that as well. We all know what he is capable of and we know he is a fine player. I am sure that in himself should give him a huge amount of confidence."

The manner of The Oval defeat would have hurt England and it would take some motivation to recover mentally from it. 'Frustration' was the buzzword in Root's press conferences post the fourth Test loss. They would however take confidence from the Headingley win where they were in a similar position after the Lord's Test and turned it around with an innings win. And also the fact that Old Trafford has been a happy hunting ground for them.

They have lost just two of the 17 Tests in Manchester since 2000 and won 12 with three ending in a draw. A win/loss ratio of 6.000 since 2000 is their highest at any venue at home where England have played at least 10 Tests. Also, they haven't lost to India at this ground. Of the nine matches between the two sides, England have won four and drawn five.

With India having the momentum on their side and a first series win in 14 years in sight, and England looking to up the aggression, Manchester is in for a cracking finale...if the COVID clouds move away and the weather gods smile.

Updated Date: September 10, 2021 08:07:57 IST

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