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Nottingham ‘Moving’ Test Could Show Where the Team is Heading

Karthik Lakshmanan |Cricketnext |August 17, 2018, 1:19 PM IST
Nottingham ‘Moving’ Test Could Show Where the Team is Heading

The third day of a Test match is often referred to as a ‘moving’ day, for it generally suggests which way the game is heading. The third Test against England in Nottingham could well be termed the ‘moving’ Test as far as the Indians are concerned, for it will show which way the series, as well as Indian cricket, is heading.

India are 0-2 down in the five-match series and there is already talk of the possibility of a 0-5 outcome. It’s as if Indian cricket is back to 2011, when they entered England as the world’s top ranked Test team, only to return home whitewashed and with their tail between their legs.

India are a much-improved side in recent times and have managed to compete in Tests abroad, but they’ll know well that there’s no hiding in a five-match series. India found that out the harsh way in the same country in 2014. Now, they’ll have to learn from what their opponents did four years back.

At the same stage of the series back then, it was England who were down 0-1 after India managed a draw in Nottingham and won at Lord’s. Things changed rapidly from that point, as the hosts won the remaining three Tests to take the series.

One more bad performance now, and the heads will drop, and the hearts will yearn for home. Many of the players have been away from home for nearly two months, and the remaining three weeks will feel even longer if they don’t pick themselves up at Nottingham. Some careers could be on the line too, with the selectors set to name the squad for the remaining two games only after the third Test.

That India arrived in United Kingdom early and played the limited-overs leg first was meant to help them acclimatize to the conditions well before the Test series started. But now, it’s proven that preparation with the white ball isn’t an indication of readiness for the challenges of the red ball, particularly of the Dukes variety.

Questions, rightly are being raised about the team’s preparation. India had 14 days between the last ODI and the first Test, but played only one warm-up game which too was reduced to three days from the originally planned four. Ironically, the extra day they earned was wasted due to rain in Birmingham. India did something similar in South Africa, and ended up losing the series 1-2.

Unlike in 2011, this time, the questions could be raised by the board as well. There are already reports that the BCCI has decided to question Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri after the series if things don’t improve from here on. The board acceded to each of the team management’s requests after the South Africa tour - India scheduled the limited-overs series before the Tests, and had the A side playing alongside the seniors in a ‘shadow tour’.

The inadequate red-ball preparation showed immediately on the batting. The batsmen had no answers to swing and seam, with even the ones who did well in the previous tour - M Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane, failing to deliver. Vijay is a pale shadow of the 2014 version where he defended and left with confidence. Rahane looks nothing like the positive batsman he was in the past. KL Rahul hasn't stepped up. Cheteshwar Pujara and Shikhar Dhawan too have looked out of sorts.

Only Virat Kohli has raised his game and turned the table from 2014 with a fine 149 & 51 in the first Test. The fact that the next best score by an Indian in the series is 33 by R Ashwin speaks volumes about the Indian batting woes.

The reason for India's batting failure - the obvious technical issues apart - is a lack of positive intent. Every batsman seems to be battling for life rather than trying to score. Eventually, they've got the one delivery with their name written on it. For India to change this, they'll need either a change in approach or personnel. They could consider Rishabh Pant as a replacement for the woefully out of form Dinesh Karthik, but the bigger question to be addressed is the one surrounding the openers.

The opening batsmen have played a big part in every Test that India have won or drawn in England since 2000. Sanjay Bangar and Virender Sehwag did the job in 2002, Dinesh Karthik in 2007 and M Vijay in 2014. But now, each of India’s opening options are out of form, and there doesn't seem to be any replacement available. India could throw Pant in for an acid test against the new ball, but will that be fair on the uncapped youngster?

The abject Indian batting has turned focus away from the fact that England's batting in itself hasn't been a great deal better. Only 31 runs separated the two sides at Edgbaston. England had the better of the conditions at Lord's but found themselves 131 for 5 at one stage. If India can bat a little better, they'll give their bowlers a chance to make things happen. If.

India’s bowling has been good despite the absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and R Ashwin have had good spells, but the team has missed the ability to land the finishing touches. England recovered from 87 for 7 to post 180 in the first Test, and scored 396 for 7 from 131 for 5 in the second. Jasprit Bumrah’s availability will be a welcome relief in that regard, but the team has to ensure they get their combinations right. India included Kuldeep Yadav at Lord’s, and the seamer-friendly conditions allowed him to bowl only nine overs out of the 88 they bowled.

The good news for India is that the forecast in Nottingham suggests the weather should be better than it was in London. The bad news, though, is that the conditions will still be seam bowling friendly. Trent Bridge is Stuart Broad’s home ground. It’s also a happy hunting venue for James Anderson, who has 60 wickets from nine Tests here, with as many as seven five-wicket hauls.

All this means, India’s batsmen have yet another stern examination ahead of them. They passed the test last time they played in Nottingham, scoring 457 and 391/9 in the two innings. Only an encore can save the team, and perhaps some careers.

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4 Australia 5543 111
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