After an unexpected scare at Rajkot, India will be seeking better returns when they take on England in the second Test at Vizag starting on Thursday. On a pitch, where there wasn't much assistance for the Indian spinners early on, the slow bowlers actually struggled. It was a rare sight to see Indian bowlers toil in the manner that they actually did. But, England must be given credit for the same. Remember, they were the last team to beat India in a home series back in 2012. The conditions are expected to be much more conducive to the spinners at Vizag. But, Adil Rashid's returns at Rajkot means that isn't quite a bad thing for the visitors. They have the batsmen to deal with the conditions too.
The one big change for India expected is the return of Lokesh Rahul from injury. As per the new rule laid down, players have to prove their fitness in domestic cricket before making a comeback. Rahul has done the same, and is thus ready to reclaim his spot at the top. His inclusion would mean the axing of Gautam Gambhir. The southpaw got four innings out in the middle when Rahul was injured, including the last Test against New Zealand, but managed only one fifty, and his Test career could be all but over. Rahul and Murali Vijay have done very well for India in the recent past. And, at present, they seem the best choices for India at the top, when fit.
India's pace bowling also did not do a great deal at Rajkot which means Hardik Pandya could again come back into the picture for a Test debut. The all-rounder can slot in at number six in place of Umesh Yadav. The other option could be of course of them playing two spinners and leaving out leggie Amit Mishra. But, the latter only recently won the man of series against the Kiwis in ODIs, so India will not be too keen to do away with him. Also, bringing in Pandya would mean a big risk. With Ravichandran Ashwin succeeding with the bat on a regular basis, India should be highly pleased. Ideally though at Vizag, they will be seeking wickets from him and the other two spinners.
Although the Test ended in a draw, England finished with the psychological edge as they put India in trouble on the final day. Losing wickets in under two sessions or so means they were given a serious scare. Had it not been for Virat Kohli's dogged effort in the last session, England might even have sneaked away. One of the key reasons behind India's struggle was the twin failure of Ajinkya Rahane. The Mumbai batsman has rarely tasted two low scores in a row. This is what happened at Rajkot, and what followed illustrated how crucial Rahane is to India's cause. The hosts would be pleased with the form of centurions Cheteshwar Pujara and Vijay though.
For England, a draw at Rajkot was as good as a win. There weren't high hopes from them following the Bangladesh disaster. But, the batters combined brilliantly in the first innings to turn things around. Joe Root led the way, with excellent support from Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes. In the second innings, skipper Alastair Cook came up with yet another hundred against his favourite opponent. In spite of all the tons, it must be said that the biggest gain for England was the success of Haseeb Hameed. It has been a while since English have been hunting for a suitable opening partner for Cook. Even their bowlers outshone India to an extent. So, the hosts may not have it easy again.
--By A Cricket Analyst