ROHIT SANKAR | 8 AUGUST, 2018
Selection and Batting Haunts India at Lord’s
Bowling was sharp
The Mecca of Cricket. Lord’s is, in every way, supposed to be England's fortress. Yet, since July 2011, the hosts haven't won a single game at the venue against a sub-continental side. As the series leads up to the crucial second Test at the venue much of this statistic would do the rounds on social media.
The last time India played a Test at the venue, in 2014, Ishant Sharma inspired them to a memorable win. The setting, though, is different this time around. Virat Kohli is no longer edging James Anderson behind and India are no longer reliant on one pacer to inspire them with the ball.
Edgbaston was as close as it would get. It is infact India's fourth closest loss in Test history in terms of runs. 31 of them separated the hosts from the visitors, a tad too close for England's comfort. If they expected to bulldoze India on the green pastures at home, they were miserably let down.
India were more vibrant, eager and nearly pulled off a monumental win. But it would haunt them that much of the responsibility in the batting line-up lay on Virat Kohli who scored close to 50% of the runs India made at Edgbaston. Their top-order was virtually absent as England's pace bowlers made merry around the rock called Kohli.
Their bowling, though, was as sharp, if not better, than England's. Ravichandran Ashwin attacked, bowled with vigour, skill and purpose. Ishant Sharma was all over England with his late swing and Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami impressed in bits and pieces. The county stint was apparently critical to Ashwin and Ishant's inspired show and if Lord’s is dry, as it is expected to be after the hot summer, India could well be at an advantage.
The conditions could well bring into contention a second spinner in Kuldeep Yadav. Harbhajan Singh, the former Indian off-spinner, definitely believes not playing the chinaman spinner was a mistake at Edgbaston. “India made a mistake even at Edgbaston going with one spinner,” he had said as revealed by CricketNext. “They could have gone with Kuldeep Yadav instead of Hardik Pandya even at Edgbaston, where the conditions were dry, the wicket was dry, where you know the sun is going to be out. So, India, they didn't read the conditions well. They went ahead choosing four fast bowlers and one spinner which didn't help them.”
However, Hardik Pandya is unlikely to make way. For one, Kohli loves his seam bowling all-rounders. Pandya played out the most number of balls by an Indian batsman after Kohli at Edgbaston. He seemed more compact and composed than some of the top order batsmen and despite his minimal contribution with the ball, Pandya is likely to be in the eleven.
This could mean Umesh Yadav missing out after his listless show. The seam bowler was impressive in the build-up to the first Test but floundered with the new ball, spraying it around and leaking runs liberally. With Shami and Ishant uber impressive, Umesh could miss out if the pitch is dry enough for Kuldeep.
Cheteshwar Pujara was spotted practising slip catching for hours in the nets in the build-up to the Test match and would most likely return to the starting XI. The no.3 batsman had a not so impressive county season but having spent time in the country, familiarising with the conditions, India might decide it was a mistake to bench him last Test and slot him right back in.
But this would inevitably mean creating a vacancy in the top six. Aside from Murali Vijay, Virat Kohli and keeper Dinesh Karthik, none of the incumbent batsmen are guaranteed a spot in the final XI, not least due to the current management's preference for altering their playing XIs.
Before Edgbaston, Shikhar Dhawan would have been the easy target but the left-hander, inspite of two horrible shots, looked the deal while at the crease in the first Test. This leaves KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane. Rahul, though lacking in temperament going by his innings’ in the first Test, is an accomplished top-order batsman. His inclusion would mean one of Pujara or Rahul will have to bat at 5, assuming Kohli is immovable at 4.
Rahane, on the other hand, has an impressive record away from home, and has more often than not been the impetus at no.5 for India in overseas tours. His record, of late, though, is deplorable and this could work against the Mumbaikar.
This Indian management isn't averse to relying on recent form and this could see Rahane being ousted for Pujara with Rahul coming in at no.5, hopefully in time to handle the second new ball after 80 overs. The rest of the XI virtually pick themselves. As India head to Lord's the onus would be on them to prove that hey can walk their pre-series talk.
Possible XI: Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, KL Rahul, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma, Kuldeep Yadav