So England go into this Test 2-0 down and in desperate need of a victory to keep the series alive against a buoyant Indian team; however it hasn’t been this game that has lit up the back pages over the past week rather the constant murmurings about Cook’s position as captain in this team from the majority of the MSM that has been of most interest in the days preceding this Test.
I don’t want to go into too much detail as this was covered in depth in by Dmitri’s ‘What’s Cooking” post but with Newman, Pringle and a few others daring to question Cook’s position as Captain within this team, then it certainly feels like something has happened behind the scenes and that change may be afoot in the not too distant future. As has been mentioned before on the blog, why it has taken our beloved hacks nearly 4 years to work out that Cook is a limited Captain, one who has always been too cautious, one who has never really known what to do with our spinners and one who the word ‘drift’ seems to have been invented for is quite beyond me. We’ve all known this for years, except one can guess that now the ‘KP Brigade’ has all but been silenced, the Director Comma has now realised that he might actually win some games to deflect any criticism coming his way. He may well have privately decided that Captain courageous may not be the best personal to help achieve this moving forward and a change is needed, although it would have been nice if this message had reached Andy Bull, whose nauseous piece yesterday would have had Selvey no doubt purring in approval (For the record, no he shouldn’t bloody relinquish the captaincy on his own terms, he’s actually not part of the monarchy and should be judged on the team’s results, whether you would like him to be or not).
Whether or not Cook does retire as England captain at the end of the series and I think the recent negative chirpings from the Media have been designed by the powers that be to suggest to him that he does, I have no doubt the selectors will be the ones in the firing line for picking such a strange and unbalanced squad. I still can’t get my head around the fact that we picked an out of touch batsman with a dodgy technique, a wicket keeper who hadn’t played a red ball cricket game for over a year and also included 6 fast bowlers in the party, where did they think we were touring? Australia? Oh and don’t even get me started on Liam Dawson! There were rumours last summer that Messer’s Whittaker, Fraser and Newell were likely on the way out as Director Comma looked to reshape the selection process and my guess is that they were kept on with the whole purpose of taking the heat off him when we likely bombed in India. So I wouldn’t suggest that Whittaker, Newell or Fraser pay too much attention to the county fixture list (obviously apart from Fraser, who needs to look at Middlesex’s fixtures) as we all know now that Andy Flower picks the team on character anyway. I’m personally looking forward to the LOL’s when James Vince is picked for the First Test against South Africa next summer.
As to the game itself, it’s good to see Keaton Jennings get an opportunity at the top of the order, and whilst it’s certainly not ideal to have another left hander in the squad, the sheer weight of runs that Jennings scored in county cricket last year meant that the opportunity is very much merited. I haven’t seen too much of Jennings myself (without wanting to sound like Nick Knight) as obviously there is minimal coverage of county cricket on TV; however I’ve heard that he has a decent technique, solid defense and the ability to make ‘Daddy Hundreds’. It is perhaps not ideal that he makes his Test debut in India as I’m unsure about his pedigree against spin (you don’t get too much of that at the Riverside); however it will be interesting to see how he goes on debut. As for the make up of the England side, I still think that they will try and shoehorn 4 quick’s into the bowling line up after misreading the pitch in Mohali, even if Broad is injured. The curator of the pitch reckons it will be the same sort of surface as Mohali meaning that the pitch will play well for the first couple of days and then start to break up on Day 3. Whether or not that is the case, I hope England actually take a proper look at the surface before making the decision on their bowling attack, as if the pitch is a complete Bunsen, then having 4 fast bowlers virtually hands the victory to India.
As ever, England will need to bat well in the first innings to set a competitive total whether they win or lose the toss, although this is something that they’ve spectacularly failed to do in the last couple of games. There has been much talk and some criticism of Bayliss’ request for England to become more aggressive with their batting, but in my opinion that simply means that the team needs to bat with a bit more intent, take the ones and twos on offer and punish the bad ball when it comes along. In a sense I agree, after all if you let Ashwin just bowl to you in the second innings of a game then he is going to get you out sooner rather than later; however that also doesn’t mean that our batsmen should be trying to plonk India’s bowlers into the stand every other ball as that has got batting collapse written all over it. It certainly will be interesting to see how the England batting unit responds to Bayliss’ request.
As for India, they rightly remain the favourites to win the game. Kohli and Pujara are in a rich vein of form and are quality batsmen, they have a lower order that can add valuable runs and take the game away from you (I would certainly class Ashwin as a true all rounder these days) and a potent seam and spin attack that knows how to utilise these conditions well. They will have some concerns about Rahane’s form as he has looked out of touch all series, but with this batting and bowling attack aided by some clever and combative captaincy from Kohli, I doubt they will have too many concerns over whether they win or lose the toss tomorrow.
So will we have a competitive game or simply more of the same? As ever Day 1 thoughts and comments below: