India vs England: Hosts nearly paid the price for complacency; time for them to step things up
India rode on Virat Kohli's fighting innings of 49 off 98 balls to avoid a possible defeat on the last day of the first Test against England at Rajkot.
"We need to accept what happened on the negative side, and learn from it in the next game."
India captain Virat Kohli is not used to saying such words while leading the side on home soil. Since taking over the reins of the Test team, he has enjoyed a dominant run in home conditions, with the Indians winning six out of seven matches, and the only exception being a rain-affected draw against South Africa.
However, England did come close at Rajkot, and Kohli's men only just escaped with a draw. From being perceived as throwaway favourites ahead of the series, given the troubles the visitors had faced in their tour of Bangladesh last month, India only escaped defeat thanks to Kohli's fightback on the final day. However, the close finish certainly sets the tone for further exciting contests between the two sides.
While England would be rejoicing at the discovery of a hidden gem in Haseeb Hameed, who could prove to be captain Alastair Cook's long-term opening partner, the Indian camp has plenty to ponder over. For instance, the batting unit imploded in the face of pressure, as was the case on the final day, when they collapsed to 71 for 4. Their bowlers, especially the spinners, then got tonked for runs at a time when their English counterparts seemed to have done a fairly commendable task.
After bowling India out 49 runs short of their first innings total of 537, Cook and Hameed deflated the Indian attack to put up 180 runs for the first wicket, a record for England in India.
Hameed, who made his debut in this Test, followed up his 31 from the first innings with 82 in the second, the highest Test score by an English teenager, beating Jack Crawford's 74 in Cape Town in 1906.
While Joe Root coudn't quite repeat his first innings heroics, where he set the foundation for the 500-plus total with a 180-ball 124, Ben Stokes' promotion to No 4 showed the visitors' intent of getting quick runs on the board while giving their bowlers enough time to enforce a result. Cook eventually brought up his 30th Test century — his fifth in India, a record in itself — before declaring the innings once he was dismissed.
If India ever harboured thoughts of chasing down the 310-run target in the stipulated 49 overs, they would have required quick partnerships up the order. Gautam Gambhir did the exact opposite, poking a short ball from Woakes to Root in the slips, thereby also endangering his career yet again. Considering the opener's spot in the Indian cricket team is circled by plenty of hawks, Gambhir ended up did his chances no good, walking back for a duck after being set up by a few short balls.
Things only got worse thereafter for the hosts. Cheteshwar Pujara was adjudged LBW for a delivery that was pitched outside leg (the idea of reviewing it somehow went for a walk that moment). Vijay, India's other first innings centurion, also suffered a lapse of concentration to be caught at short-leg after a bat-pad deflection.
Ajinkya Rahane did nothing to reduce the negativity that had been piling on him after a poor run in the recent ODIs against New Zealand, playing an atrocious short against a Moeen Ali delivery that stayed low and crashed into his stumps after hitting the pad. At 71 for 4, the visitors were sniffing a 1-0 series lead.
Kohli's unbeaten 98-ball 49 helped save the day for India, and might go down in history as one of his most underrated knocks. Statistics may not convey the tenaciousness of his stay at the crease, but his knock was vital in ensuring the visitors didn't make further breakthroughs and get at India's tail. Kohli got crucial partnerships with Ashwin (whose 53-ball 32 was brought to an end by an impatient drive straight to the extra-cover fielder) as well as Jadeja (scored as many runs as Ashwin, except that he remained unbeaten, and his strokes were cheered more loudly) to secure the draw.
There were few positives for the hosts from this game, the successful pairing of Vijay and Pujara at the fall of the first wicket, and Ashwin continuing to justify his tag as the No 1 all-rounder in the world being two of them. But that takes little away from the fact that the hosts were on the backfoot throughout this match, and they have a lot to catch up on if they are to gain the upper hand at Vizag. There are concerns across all departments of the squad, and the hosts cannot afford any leisure over the next three.
One could say that Kohli and Co indulged in complacency at Rajkot. Only time will tell if they learnt a lesson out of this experience or not.
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