Cricket

India vs England: Virat Kohli and Co search for middle order runs as they look to carry forward momentum at Lord's

India will be in search of middle-order runs, while England need Joe Root's support system to fire as both teams look to draw first blood at Lord's

India vs England: Virat Kohli and Co search for middle order runs as they look to carry forward momentum at Lord's

File picture of Ajinkya Rahane. AFP

"This is exactly what we wanted to do, we wanted to start strong. On day five we knew we had our chances in front of us. We certainly felt like we were on top in the game. Getting that lead was crucial which kept us on top throughout the game.": Virat Kohli after the Nottingham Test.

India starting an overseas tour on the front foot is a rare occurrence and it's even rarer if the visiting country is England. India had the upper hand almost all through the first Test in Nottingham. And heading into Day 5 with 157 needed and nine wickets in hand, they were in the driver's seat to clinch that crucial first win to start off, but the rain gods had other plans. While it was disappointing, given that chances like these have been at a premium in recent years, Kohli exuded confidence in the post-match presentation and India would like to carry forward that confidence and momentum into the Lord's Test.

India were 'on top throughout the game' because of a combination of factors that brought out plenty of positives. KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma's patience and perseverance helped overcome the conditions, especially in the first innings. That 97-run opening stand in the first innings set the tone.

More importantly, India didn't let their perennial nemesis hurt them — the lower-order and the tail. In fact, they turned the tables to frustrate England as their own tail wagged (8-11 partnership) to add 73 crucial runs for the last three wickets. They capitalised on key moments and didn't loosen the stranglehold once in the position of ascendency, something which had pricked them time and again in the past.

Unlike previous tours to England, India didn't warm up in the first Test, they seized control. While they did most things right, the one area of concern that remained was the middle order.

Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Rishabh Pant combined to score 24 runs in the first innings. It's that mini middle-order collapse that allowed England a way back into the match after the openers had put on 97 runs.

The Kohli-Anderson battle resumed and after a wait of seven years, the England pacer finally had the wicket of the Indian captain. It was that wobble seam first ball that sent Trent Bridge into a frenzy. Kohli's indifferent form continued. He's played some class innings in challenging conditions but that consistency has eluded him recently, along with a three-figure score. In the last one and half years (Since 1 Feb 2020), he's averaged just 23 and hasn't scored a century in 15 innings. Rahane too hasn't scored a ton in 13 innings and averaged 20.61 in that period with just one fifty-plus score.

Pujara has averaged 19.11 in his last ten innings with just one fifty-plus score. He looked tentative at the wicket in the first innings in Nottingham. However, he started off confidently in the second innings and exuded positivity in that difficult last hour of Day 4. He will look to continue from where he left off in Nottingham and get back among the runs at Lord's.

Those horror memories of their last visit to Lord's, in 2018, will still be fresh in India's minds as they return to the same venue where they were blown away for 107 and 130 and suffered their first innings defeat under Kohli, inside three days. And that's why that middle order contribution is so crucial.

The combination conundrum is back again with Shardul Thakur ruled out due to a hamstring injury. A lot of eyebrows were raised when the in-form Ashwin was dropped from the first Test and India went in with four pacers. In the end, the fast bowlers vindicated the call, picking up all 20 wickets, just for the second time in history. Kohli has said that four pacers and one spinner will 'most likely be the template going ahead in the series'. Thakur's presence gave India some batting assurance in the lower-order. So should they go for Ashwin or Ishant Sharma/Umesh Yadav? Ashwin gives them the batting depth while Ishant/Umesh lengthens their tail.

With a better forecast compared to Nottingham, London might witness warm weather which would mean that Kohli could move away from his template as early as the second Test and tilt the balance in Ashwin's favour. However, Kohli hinted at replacing Shardul with another pacer on the eve of the Test. The Indian captain said that India are comfortable with where they are placed as a batting unit and "won't feel that we are a batsman short if Shardul doesn't play".

"If Shardul is not available, we definitely will think first how to pick up 20 wickets and not to plug in another guy who can give us some runs with the bat," Kohli said in the pre-match conference, adding, "and we feel we are very comfortable after how the first Test went."

Mayank Agarwal is back in the nets but in all probability, they would look to continue to open with Rahul who was India's top-run getter with 110 runs in the first Test.

Memories of that 2018 Lord's Test are not just restricted to the batting failure. India got their selection horribly wrong as well as they dropped a pacer and played two spinners amid rain and overcast conditions. Kohli had admitted that they judged the conditions wrongly. They wouldn't want to commit the same mistake this time around.

Post the Nottingham Test, Root accepted that India were in the driver's seat on the final day but was also confident of the English bowlers creating chances on the final day to turn it around in favour of the hosts.

The confidence in batting is not similar to their bowling. The top-order troubles have been a constant worry and the troubles continued in Nottingham. The trio of Don Sibley, Rory Burns and Zack Crawley could manage just 97 runs combined in the match. Since the start of this year, the England top-order has had the worst average among all Test-playing nations — 20.29. Sibley has averaged 21.56, Burns 31.40 and Crawley a meagre 11.14 in this period. Root waged a lone battle in Nottingham and the relief was palpable after he registered his first century at home after 27 innings. England, though, need relief from their batting woes as there is too much dependency on Root.

Coach Chris Silverwood acknowledged that the rest need to step up. "I mean Joe's been phenomenal for the last six months really scoring runs for us. And what we need to do is make sure that the guys that are batting with him are coming to the party as well. So that's one thing which we're talking about in the dressing room constantly. And it's something that I've spoken to the batting coaches as well."

England might ring in a few changes for the Lord's Test. Moeen Ali, who has been out of favour for some time now in red-ball cricket, is back in the squad on the back of impressive form in The Hundred (189 runs from 6 innings at 31.50 and four wickets from 6 matches at 31.50). Moeen hasn't played a home Test since the 2019 Ashes Test at Edgbaston and England have gone with an all-pace attack in their last three home Tests. However, Moeen provides a degree of balance, seeing as he also has a good bowling record against India at home, averaging 22.22 with 31 wickets from seven matches and might get into the eleven straightaway.

There are concerns in the pace department as Stuart Broad has been ruled out of the series with a torn calf muscle and James Anderson is an injury doubt with tight quadriceps muscle. Saqib Mahmood, who shone in the white-ball series against Pakistan, has been added as an injury cover. Mark Wood might replace Broad and either Craig Overton or Mahmood might get into the eleven in case Anderson also misses out. If the senior pacers are ruled out, Ollie Robinson, who impressed in Nottingham with a five-for in the first innings, will become the go-to man in that pace attack.

On the batting front, Haseeb Hameed, who scored a century in the warm-up match against India in Durham and has averaged 45.85 in County Championship (with two 100s and four 50s) may replace Crawley while Moeen might come in place of Dan Lawrence.

England have had a good record against India at Lord's. They have won 12 of the 18 matches, losing two with four ending in draws. The last time India won at Lord's was in 2014 under MS Dhoni, where they beat the hosts by 95 runs. The only other win came way back in 1986 where Kapil Dev led from the front to achieve a five-wicket win.

Another crucial aspect will be maintaining over rates. The teams were docked two WTC points each for slow overrates in the first Test and they would want to make sure that they don't miss out on vital points going forward.

With India off to a positive start and looking to carry forward this confidence to Lord's and England still looking to find their (batting) feet, we might be in for another riveting Test match.

Updated Date: August 12, 2021 08:41:14 IST

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