India vs England, 2nd Test: Joe Root must strike root in the middle for visitors to salvage a draw
A draw now would be as good as a victory for England. It would severely dent the confidence of the Indians if that happens.
England were in a lot of trouble at the end of Day 3, nearly 300 runs behind and facing the spectre of dealing with Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja on a fast-deteriorating pitch. However, they came out fighting on Day 4 and made life difficult for the India batsmen. Ajinkya Rahane was removed by Stuart Broad, after the addition of just 19 runs to the overnight score. Broad bowled with a lot of heart despite a foot injury, and also accounted for the wicket of Ashwin, who has been a thorn in England's flesh with his contributions down the order in this series.
Soon Adil Rashid joined the party and when Virat Kohli was dismissed with the score reading 151, one knew the end was near for India's innings. India were eventually bowled out for 204, minutes before lunch on Day 4, losing seven wickets for the addition of a mere 106 runs to their overnight score. What England did well was to not get overawed by the enormity of the task at hand. Their bowlers deserve credit for making India earn their runs, and when Alastair Cook and Haseeb Hameed came into bat, they ensured that there were no easy wickets on offer either for the Indians.
Bowling India out at the stroke of lunch could be a bane for England though, as they now had to survive five sessions over two days, on an absolute plough field of a pitch, against two spinners who are the masters of their craft. It was beyond question that doing it successfully would have taken some doing, and perhaps even the biggest England supporter would not have imagined Cook's men chasing down over 400 runs.
When Cook and Hameed began England's second innings, it was clear that going after India's total was not their topmost priority as the two openers just dropped anchor and blocked everything that the Indians threw at them. Like the bowlers earlier, the England batsmen were not going to go down without a fight. They frustrated India for 50 long overs, scoring just 75 runs, but importantly ate up time.
However, then disaster struck for England when Hameed found himself hopelessly in front of the stumps to an Ashwin delivery that just refused to rise. Cook followed soon after. The England captain has the ability to graft for hours on end and losing him was a body blow for England.
Now, with a full day to bat out, England's hopes lie largely on the shoulders of Joe Root. However, he needs support from the other end, and that is where the likes of Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow would have to pitch in. The scales are still heavily titled in favour of the hosts. There is bound to be balls that will almost roll along the ground, balls that would jump alarmingly, and indeed those that would turn square. Batting on the Day 5 Visakhapatnam pitch against Ashwin and Co would perhaps be the sternest test that any of the remaining England batsmen would ever face.
A draw now would be as good as a victory for England. It would severely dent the confidence of the Indians if that happens and would give the visitors the momentum going into the third Test at Mohali.
Runs are of no significance now as England going after the target is virtually out of the question. Root and others would have to strike root in the middle and make themselves difficult to be dislodged. As on Day 4, the focus on the last day should again be to play with soft hands and not unduly go into their shells. Perhaps a mistake that Cook and Hammed did in the second innings was to try and block everything. It allowed the Indian spinners to climb on top. England, on the last day, would have to be mindful to not let bad balls unpunished.
What England must focus on now is to do what is there in their hands, and not worry too much about how the Vizag pitch would behave, and resolve to fight till the very last.
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