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Underwhelming Build-up Behind Them, India Ponder Questions Aplenty as First Test Looms

India’s first training session on Sunday was washed out by incessant rain. While the rain comes as a huge relief to the locals reeling from the heatwave sweeping England, it also means the groundstaff get an opportunity to spice up the pitch with a couple of days still left before the first ball of the series is bowled.

Cricketnext Staff |July 30, 2018, 8:54 PM IST
Underwhelming Build-up Behind Them, India Ponder Questions Aplenty as First Test Looms

New Delhi: A pair for Shikhar Dhawan, scores of 1 and 23 for Cheteshwar Pujara and a bowling attack that failed to dismiss an under-strength opposition in 94 overs in their only innings were among the takeaways for India from an underwhelming warm-up game against Essex.

If the intention to cut the four-day warm up game to a three-day affair was to get practice in Birmingham, the venue for the first Test from Wednesday, it didn’t materialise. India’s first training session on Sunday was washed out by incessant rain. While the rain comes as a huge relief to the locals reeling from the heatwave sweeping England, it also means the groundstaff get an opportunity to spice up the pitch with a couple of days still left before the first ball of the series is bowled.

The immediate reaction to Dhawan and Pujara’s poor show in the warm-up game was an extended net session for the duo even as KL Rahul hit a solid fifty in the first innings to once again raise calls for his inclusion in the team for the first Test. Among the questions to ponder for the management now are if the pair will cost Dhawan his place? Or will the management discard those ducks as an aberration and back Dhawan to take on the likes of James Anderson & Stuart Broad.

For his part, coach Ravi Shastri didn’t seem to attach too much importance to the outcomes from the warm-up game. Shastri pointed out how Virat Kohli would have been three times more focused if it was a Test match and wouldn’t have been dismissed after getting to a fifty. He left his response open-ended when quizzed about the make–up of the batting order and if he saw a spot for K L Rahul.

“He has been picked as the third opener,” Shastri told ESPNCricinfo. “But our batting order will always be flexible. The third opener can play anywhere in the top four. We are a very, very flexible outfit. Be prepared for that. We will surprise you guys at times.”

Even though the rain has scuppered India’s plans to get practice, unlike the tour of South Africa at the start of the year, the players have experienced English conditions in the limited-overs series as well as in matches for their county teams and as part of the India ‘A’ team.

Another key factor in the series is likely to be the role of spin, especially with dry conditions prevalent in the country due to the ongoing heatwave. The English selectors handing Adil Rashid a surprise Test recall only strengthened the belief that spin will play a big role though India did encounter a green pitch on the first morning of the warm-up game and were struggling at 44/3 before skipper Kohli and Murali Vijay steadied the ship.

Interestingly, Kohli did face an over from Matthew Quinn that served as a reminder of the 2014 tour when James Anderson repeatedly dismissed Kohli. Quinn, bowling on and around off and moving the ball away just enough to kiss the outside edge of the bat that has seen Kohli take apart opposition bowlers at will. Only this time, there were three plays and misses and the over ended with Kohli punching the fast bowler through covers for a boundary.

However, that passage of play wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by the England think-tank. Will a fit-again Anderson, who is still the top-ranked bowler in the world, be able to take advantage of this weakness outside the off-stump, only time can tell. However, there is no denying the fact that mentally Kohli is a much more complete batsman today than he was back in 2014.

Another area that the Indian management will need to look into is playing Hardik Pandya as the all-rounder or getting in the additional specialist and handing the all-rounder duties to R Ashwin. While Pandya’s batting has come together well, his progress as a bowler hasn’t been quite as rapid. If the pitch does turn out to be as flat as the pundits expect, Ashwin could prove to bring more balance as the pin-up all-rounder. Shastri though has spoken about Pandya’s ability as the back-up quick, though on this trip he has just 7 wickets to show from his 6 limited-overs games with 6 of them coming in the T20I series.

The square will have a big role to play in deciding whether Kuldeep Yadav does get into the playing XI after a quality showing in the limited-overs series. Thundershowers are expected once again on Monday and if the weather does remain cloudy as the forecast suggests, the fast bowlers will surely have a smile on their faces.

However, the Indian pace bowling department has its own woes. With Mohammed Shami failing to show much spark in the warm-up game after Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav bowled well in patches, Shastri and Kohli aren’t exactly spoilt for choice. As has been the case with this Indian team under the leadership of Kohli, and as Shastri has already said, expect the unexpected come Wednesday.

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2 New Zealand 2829 109
3 England 4366 104
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1 England 6745 125
2 India 7071 122
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 Australia 5543 111
5 South Africa 5193 110
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2 Australia 6986 269
3 England 5568 265
4 South Africa 4720 262
5 India 9349 260
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