It’s happened before. India have gone 1-0 down at home, and India have bounced back. This is what India will be telling themselves: ‘We’ve been here before. We trust ourselves to find our way out of this. We trust our methods.’
It’s what they should tell themselves too. Change is a fact of life, a constant that India aren’t blind to – note their efforts to embrace the sweep and all its variants in the lead-up to Visakhapatnam – but there’s a reason why they’ve been so successful in their own conditions for such a long time: their methods work, and work exceedingly well, most of the time.
Hyderabad was one of those exceptions, rare and freakish. India have experienced something very much like it too – Dinesh Chandimal, an almost stroke-for-stroke precursor to Ollie Pope – and they came back to win that series as well.
India have been there, and India have done it. They will trust that they can do it again. And for all of the shockwaves they set off in Hyderabad, England will know coming to Visakhapatam that they will most likely need to keep doing freakish things to repeat that result. Having won the first Test with a frontline spin attack with the collective experience of 36 Tests, they now go into the second with one that’s played a combined three Tests. Three. It’s quite likely that Joe Root will once again bowl more overs than at least one of their theoretically main spinners.
For all that, though, have England had a better chance in India than this one since their triumphant 2012-13 tour? India were a team in transition in those late-Tendulkar days, and if they aren’t already in another full-blown transition now, the number of absences they’re dealing with has left them in a not-too-dissimilar situation.
They’ve already felt the effects of losing experienced batters. Bowlers win Test matches, it’s true, but batters can lose them, in ways that aren’t immediately apparent. India came away from Hyderabad with the impression that they lost that Test match on day two, when their batters, one after another, fell while attempting boundary hits. Eight of their top nine got past 20, and three of them got into the 80s, but none of them got to three figures. The aggression that cost them their wickets also brought them their runs, yes, but you could easily imagine Virat Kohli, in the same conditions and against the same attack, going at a not-dissimilar clip while hitting nothing in the air, and piling up what may have seemed to him a double-hundred for the taking.
And the loss of Jadeja, needless to say, will leave them without half of one of the greatest spin-bowling duos in history. It’s a massive blow, particularly since India are already without Mohammed Shami, whose absence in Hyderabad left them without a supreme wicket-taker in Indian conditions while also – given their seeming lack of faith in Mohammed Siraj – piling extra overs onto their spinners’ shoulders .
It’s a reflection of how good India are that Jadeja’s likely replacement is Kuldeep Yadav, a bowler who’d probably be part of England’s first-choice attack in every Test match, home and away, if they could magically change his nationality. Even so, as good as they are, India are not as good as they could be, and in this lies England’s greatest chance.
India LWLDW (last five Tests, most recent first)
In the spotlight
He averages 21.55, has taken three five-fors in just 14 innings, and was Player of the Match in his most recent Test match, but he’s an Indian spinner in the time of R Ashwin and Jadeja. Kuldeep Yadav has missed 56 of India’s 64 Tests since his debut in 2017, and he’s waited patiently for opportunities like this one. Along the way he’s made himself a more resilient bowler, quicker and harder to sit on the back foot against, while remaining just as deceptive in the air and off the pitch. In some ways he might be just the bowler India needs against an England line-up prepared to sweep and reverse sweep everything in its path: a bit more dip, a bit more bounce, and the threat of the ball going in unexpected directions.
He sent down 48 overs in Hyderabad, the most he’s ever bowled in a Test match, and there’s every chance he’ll have to go through a similar workload again. Can Joe Root cope with it? And what effect will it have on his batting?
India have decisions to make with Rahul and Jadeja out. Kuldeep’s wicket-taking ability or Washington Sundar’s all-round utility? Rajat Patidar’s standing in the hierarchy or Sarfaraz Khan’s unorthodox methods? Is there, perhaps, even a case for Sundar and Kuldeep, with either a batter or a fast bowler – Siraj – missing out?
India (possible): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Yashasvi Jaiswal, 3 Shubman Gill, 4 Shreyas Iyer, 5 Rajat Patidar, 6 Axar Patel, 7 KS Bharat (wk), 8 R Ashwin, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Mohammed Siraj.
England are going 3-1 again, with James Anderson and Shoaib Bashir coming in for Mark Wood and the injured Jack Leach.
England: 1 Zak Crawley, 2 Ben Duckett, 3 Ollie Pope, 4 Joe Root, 5 Jonny Bairstow, 6 Ben Stokes (capt), 7 Ben Foakes (wk), 8 Rehan Ahmed, 9 Tom Hartley, 10 Shoaib Bashir, 11 James Anderson .
Pitch and conditions
On the eve of the match, Ben Stokes suggested the Visakhapatnam pitch might offer a little less turn initially than the one in Hyderabad did, before “footholes and stuff like that […] come into play the further the Test goes”. The sun will bake down, though, so it may not take too much time for the pitch to start showing wear.
Spinners will bowl the bulk of the overs, but don’t be surprised if the quicks make an impact. Reverse swing came into the picture the last time England played here – Anderson, Stuart Broad and Stokes took 10 of the 20 Indian wickets that fell – and three years later Shami was India’s fourth-innings destroyer against South Africa, taking 5 for 35 on a wearing pitch where the ball is frequently kept low.
Stats and trivia
- Ashwin is four wickets away from becoming the second Indian bowler to reach the 500 mark in Test cricket.
- Ashwin (95) is just one wicket behind Bhagwath Chandrasekhar, India’s leading Test wicket-taker against England. Anderson (139) is a distant first on the England-India Test wicket-takers’ list.