Chennai, February 12
India, desperate after losing the first Test, have decided to go for the jugular by opting for a spicy turner against a well-prepared England in the second Test, which starts here tomorrow. Preparing a rank turner is a big gamble which can hurt the home team too, which Virat Kohli would be aware of, as defeat would cost them a spot in the World Test Championship (WTC) final.
After heroics in Australia, India suffered a sobering 227-run defeat in the first Test, which must have shaken a complacent team out of its stupor ahead of three high-stake Tests. It is the perfect stage for India’s mercurial skipper Virat Kohli, who loves to bring his A game to the fore when the chips are down.
With the crowd back inside the stadium, ready to egg him on, something he thrives on, the captain would be eyeing a good slugfest against a very resolute opposition. India need to win two Tests and not lose any in this series to make the WTC final.
No James, Archer
England will have a new wicketkeeper in Ben Foakes and Stuart Broad will replace James Anderson as part of the team’s workload management. Also in the mix is Moeen Ali, a long-time nemesis of India, likely to replace Dom Bess, the top wicket-taker in the first innings of the first Test. Jofra Archer’s elbow injury might lead to the inclusion of bowling all-rounder Chris Woakes. “Jofra is a slight setback but hopefully he is fit and ready for the third Test,” skipper Joe Root said today.
A look at the newly-laid Chepauk track, dark in colour, indicates that unlike the strip used in the first Test, this one will offer turn early. “Yeah, it looks completely different. I am sure it will turn from Day 1… But again, as I said before the first Test match, you have to wait and see how it plays in the first session and take it from there,” vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane said today.
Ravichandran Ashwin will need a lot of support from the other end in terms of both restrictive and attacking options. A fit-again Axar Patel is the closest to being a like-for-like replacement for an injured Ravindra Jadeja, and his Test debut looks imminent. However, Kuldeep Yadav, who last played a Test two years ago, would fancy his chances of getting into the XI, for he is a better attacking option than Washington Sundar. However, on a rank turner where batting becomes important, all-rounder Hardik Pandya can come into the mix. The 20-year-old Sundar currently doesn’t seem good enough to play as a specialist third spinner. Yadav is an excellent option, but the team management’s continued reluctance to play him is an indication of its lack of faith in him.
Pandya, on the other hand, might just be able to score quick runs against the spinners and bowl eight-ten overs, the likely maximum required from a pacer on a spinning pitch.
The toss will be very crucial and even the pitch turns square, Kohli will look to bat first and expect Rohit Sharma to go beyond the two or three pretty shots that he has been contributing in recent times. He would have to give the team a big score, which it desperately needs from him.
Kohli gave a masterclass on how to play reverse-swing in the first Test but he needs the others to stand up, too. Whether it’s Cheteshwar Pujara or Ajinkya Rahane or Rishabh Pant, the skipper will need support to keep his team’s chances alive of booking a flight to London. — Agencies
Tables turned on turners
In the past, India have suffered when providing such pitches has backfired against them. In Pune in 2017, Steve Smith punished them on a rank turner on the first day. The home team didn’t have a clue that the ball would turn so much. Australia won the toss and made 260 and 285, bowling out India for 105 and 107 to win by 333 runs. It was on such a wicket that Kevin Pietersen’s made an epic 186 in Mumbai in 2012 — in that game, India had one paceman and three spinners, and R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha opened the bowling in both innings. India lost despite batting first. In these two games, it was the rival spinners (Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar in 2012 and Steve O’Keefe in 2017) who made the most of the conditions and tamed the Indian batsmen in their own den.