When a James Anderson snorter consumed Murali Vijay, and KL Rahul's return to the Test team was soured by Stuart Broad, early on Day 1, England had the hosts on the mat. India were reduced to 22/2 in the fifth over of the match itself, and it looked Alastair Cook and his men had carried their domination into the second Test. Unless, of course, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli fought back, totally neutralising the England attack, both hammering centuries and putting their team in a position of considerable strength at the end of Day 1.
The Vizag pitch, which is hosting a Test for the first time, is known to assist spin, and is expected to take turn from Day 2 itself. It is the same ground on which New Zealand were skittled out for 79 in the final match of the ODI series against the hosts last month. It is also the same ground that, not too long ago, witnessed Assam being blown away for 69 against Rajasthan in a Ranji Trophy match, which ended in three days.
However, the pitch would have played its best on the first day, and it did. There was not much the England bowlers could do on Thursday with Kohli and Pujara being in the form that they were. And what's worse, the pitch didn't offer much for the bowlers.
The England spin trio of Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali and Zafar Ansari, who did quite well at Rajkot, proved to be pretty ineffective, and in fact, in the session between lunch and tea, Kohli and Pujara scored 118 runs at more than four runs per over.
What England absolutely can't afford to do now is to let the Indians run away with the match on Day 2. That's why it was important that they broke the Kohli-Pujara partnership as early as they could, and they did it when Pujara slashed at a delivery outside off to give Anderson his second wicket of the match. England then got a vital breakthrough just at the stroke of stumps, when Ajinkya Rahane was caught behind off Anderson after getting a start. Rahane's wicket could be the difference between a score of 475 and 600, and with it England just about crawled back in the match. However, till Kohli – batting on 151 – is at the crease, the scales would be tilted in India's favour.
Ravichandran Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha and Ravindra Jadeja have shown in the past that they can contribute handy runs lower down the order, and India would be looking to put up a big score – something in the vicinity of 575-600 – so that they are not required to bat for the second time, and also give their bowlers 10-15 overs to have a go at the English batsmen before stumps on Day 2.
That's precisely what England would want to prevent, because up against a pile of runs, and batting for a little over three days on a spiteful pitch against the likes of Ashwin and Jadeja, there is every chance that they would crumble.
"I'm not sure whether it (pitch) will stay together as well as Rajkot. There are already signs of the pitch keeping low. There will be more variable bounce, we have seen a few spun, so we are in tough position. We need to have a good day with the ball and an extremely good out with the bat (tomorrow)," Anderson said after the end of the day's play.
England would want to wrap the Indian innings up under 450, ideally by lunch, so that their openers can lay a foundation before the pitch really deteriorates. But there is just one problem, and a massive one at that: Kohli is still out there and looking ominous. England have to remove him early to harbour any hope of getting back into the match.
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Updated Date: Nov 18, 2016 01:57:28 IST