After the first Test at Trent Bridge passed somewhat under the radar because of the Tokyo Olympics, it’s time once again for the high stakes India-England Test series to take centrestage. While the Indian fan will be hoping that Virat Kohli’s men can build on the momentum seized despite the ill-preparedness ahead of the series, the hosts will try to wrest the crucial sessions to force themselves into reckoning.
The build-up to this series was more high voltage than the way things have panned out so far. England, who got mauled 3-1 on the dust bowls of Chennai and Ahmedabad earlier this year, were expected to nurse green tops back home and try to lure the Indian batsmen with seam and swing - a ploy which boomeranged with their inept batting in Nottingham in the face of some sustained hostility of Indian pacemen in the first innings.
It’s not that the visitors did any better, with the spine of their batting line-up failing to settle down again, but the fortitude showed by KL Rahul as an opener and resilience by the tail bailed them out with a handly first innings lead.
For India, this is certainly their best chance to capture the ‘Last Frontier’ - which had proved elusive for them since 2007. This England team is not quite what India had to contend with in 2018 series - there are reports of James Anderson suffering a late niggle while Stuart Broad has strained a calf muscle and both are doubtful for the crucial Test. Ben Stokes, their biggest balancing factor, is out of the game ‘indefinitely’ to tend to his mental health while Jofra Archer has aggravated his elbow injury and is ruled out of both the T20 World Cup and Ashes series.
The batting, hence, is overtly dependant on Joe Root, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow and India will be looking to make the most of the situation - what with a dry surface beckoning at the Lord’s which may see them both Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
India, of course, have their issues with batting with the three heavyweights from No.3 to 5 failing in the first Test. Cheteshwar Pujara, who doesn’t have a 50 against his name in the last nine Tests, had been under the scanner in particular and it’s time Kohli looks at Suryakumar Yadav to bring out a change in approach in that position.
They look much more sorted in the bowling front with Ashwin looking all set to come in for an injured Shardul Thakur, who had a decent outing with the ball in Trent Bridge. Jasprit Bumrah, who seemed to have hit the rhythm back with nine wickets in the first Test, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj select themselves - unless the team management wants to fall back on the experience of Ishant Sharma or Umesh Yadav for the revese swing.
India seem to enjoy the edge marginally - but as always in English conditions - the first session holds the key!