India vs England: Hosts have a solid platform, but will need to bat through Day 3
India is still not out of the contest, but they are not out of the woods either. Much would depend upon how the Indian batsmen fare on day three.
The Indians, firm favourites going into the Test series against England, had to huff and puff through the first two days. But thanks to some good batting by their openers in the final session of Day 2, they have given themselves something to work with. Murali Vijay and Gautam Gambhir played out 23 overs without any mishap on Thursday evening, wiping out 63 runs from England's lead, and ensured that Indian heads rested easy at night.
It's still too early to take a call on how this match will pan out, let alone what the series outcome will be, but if anything, England's batsmen have shown how fruitless predictions can turn out to be. The unbroken opening stand between Vijay and Gambhir could well be worth its weight in gold, if India does go on to prevail in this match and the series.
The partnership is already worth 63 and both openers have looked solid in defence, while being quick to put loose deliveries away. The highlight of the partnership was Vijay, who started his innings by smashing Stuart Broad for three boundaries in one over.
At the other end, Gambhir's comeback trail continued, and the southpaw looked as assured as ever, notching up four boundaries himself.
If India were looking for some inspiration after a forgettable effort in the field, they had to look no further than their openers, as Vijay and Gambhir dispelled all doubts, soothed frayed nerves and repaired the confidence of a team that conceded more than 300 runs in a Test at home for the first time in three-and-a-half years.
If a team intends to do well in a series, it needs a spark — that fantastic turnaround, a dogged fightback that could set the tone for the rest of the series. The Vijay-Gambhir partnership has all the makings of one.
India now need to grab the match by the scruff of the neck. Gambhir and Vijay are perhaps the two members of the side under most pressure to perform, given that there are two quality openers in KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan waiting in the wings. Friday will be an opportunity for them to consolidate their own positions as well as that of the team. Their first target will be a hundred-run partnership, and then they build further from there.
The first session on day three would be crucial. There is expected to be some juice in the wicket early on for the England pacers to exploit, especially given the 9.30 am start and the fact that winter has started in India. The Indians will have to be wary of the swing that Broad and Co may get early on the third day, but after that, as the sun beats down and the moisture disappears, the pitch would become much easier to bat on.
The Indians, therefore, should look to negotiate the first session without losing too many wickets. Their first target would be to avoid the follow on, and then to bat the whole day, and move as close as possible to England's score of 537. It would not be easy, considering the scoreboard pressure they are up against. Conceding a lead of anything above 50 runs would put India firmly on the back foot, and their main focus would only be to save the match if that happens.
All three results are still possible, and India have the batting to produce a feast of a contest. A match that immediately comes to mind, in this context, is the second Test between India and Australia at Adelaide in 2003. Having been sent on a leather hunt over the first two days, India batted the whole of Day three and replied with a 500 of their own. Then Ajit Agarkar's fiery spell helped bowl out the Aussies under 200, and India rattled off their 230-run target on the fifth day.
Against England at Rajkot, they would do well to follow the patterns of that famous match. As the match progresses now, and the pitch dries up in the afternoon sun, cracks will begin to appear, which, along with the bowlers' footmarks, will be a huge target for the spinners on either side. A couple of deliveries by England's spinners late on day two turned and bounced and beat the Indian batsmen all ends up. It showed that it won't be long before spinners exert their control on the match.
England spinner Moeen Ali said after the day's play that there was good spin for the England spinners on day two, which was an encouraging sign going into day three.
The England spin trio of Ali, Adil Rashid and Zafar Ansari may not have the quality of Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, but Indians can't take them lightly, and considering that they would bat last, they would not want to have too much to score in their second innings.
So, India will like to extend their first innings into the fourth day. If they can do that, they would have matched England total, or surpassed it. They will then look to bowl out England cheaply, with Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja sure to be more potent on a crumbling wicket than they were on the first two days.
India are still not out of the contest, but they are not out of the woods either. Much would depend upon how their batsmen fare on day three.
Ravichandran Ashwin had earlier been included alongside Ravindra Jadeja in India's T20 World Cup squad with Rahul Chahar picked as the third spin option.
Netherlands cricketer Ryan Ten Doeschate picks Shakib al Hasan, Ravindra Jadeja as best all-rounders in modern era
"I think Shakib (Al Hasan) would be hard to look past. Ravindra Jadeja will be up there. If I had to choose two of the top (all-rounders), I (would) probably go with those two," Doeschate said during an interaction facilitated by the ICC on Tuesday.
Following a breakthrough in talks with Cricket Australia, the England and Wales Cricket Board on Friday said they had given "conditional approval" for the tour to go ahead.