India look to extend dominance

India look to extend dominance

After a strong show in opener, Dhonis men will be hard to overcome on sluggish Kotla pitch

India look to extend dominance

Coach Duncan Fletcher discusses finer points of batting with star India batsman Gautam Gambhir in New Delhi on Sunday. AFP

Unrecognisable as the team that towered over India in its own backyard last month, England were lured to their doom on a slowing surface that played increasingly lower as the first one-dayer progressed by the spin tandem of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.

Transfixed like rabbits by a headlight, England embraced uncharacteristic diffidence and hesitancy, allowing themselves to be tied up in knots once their captain, Alastair Cook, holed out in the deep trying to take on Jadeja’s left-arm spin.

The subsequent chain of events proved that while England might have come on as a batting unit against the turning ball, there still is plenty of work to be done. What their approach will be to spin in Monday’s second one-dayer at the Feroze Shah Kotla is the major talking point as the visitors seek to even up things in the five-match series.

Traditionally, the Kotla has been the slowest, lowest-playing pitch in the country. Efforts to rid the demons of that diabolical track for the India-Sri Lanka one-dayer in December 2009, which incurred a 12-month ban from the International Cricket Council, have borne fruit only to the extent that batsmen haven’t since had to fear for physical safety. Their concerns have been restricted to finding means of scoring runs, because the strip here hasn’t entirely encouraged stroke-making.

Monday’s match will be played on a relatively untested surface which has been subjected to top dressing. There is a sprinkling of grass designed not so much to encourage seam movement as to facilitate truer bounce, but the general consensus is that the character of the pitch is unlikely to be too different from the past. If that does turn out – no pun intended -- to be the case, then England can expect another attritional challenge, particularly if they are to chase again like they did, unsuccessfully, in Hyderabad.

Of course, India’s spinners were hugely fortunate that not only did Mahendra Singh Dhoni win a rare toss, but there was also no dew at the Rajiv Gandhi International stadium. Dew will be a factor at the Kotla, but to what extent is unclear because the locals say there have been some nights with reasonable dew and others with very little.

England will necessarily need Cook and/or Kevin Pietersen, struggling for runs, to stamp their authority over Ashwin and Jadeja. Whether they do so by taking the attack to the offie and the left-armer, or by working the gaps, turning the strike over and preventing them from settling into a rhythm is something they will obviously have given plenty of thought to. The two senior pros, plus Jonathan Trott and Ravi Bopara must show the way, particularly given that the visitors are again likely to leave out their best player of spin, Ian Bell.

Scott Borthwick, the 21-year-old leggie who impressed in a warm-up game in Hyderabad, had a long session at the nets and might fancy his chances ahead Samit Patel. Borthwick gives the ball a mighty rip and should enjoy the conditions here, though with four left-handers in the top seven, India will not lose too much sleep over his inclusion.

India’s challenge lies in fronting up after the 126-run victory in game one. Ajinkya Rahane will be desperate to redeem himself after a scratchy outing, while the team as a whole must maintain the same intensity it showed in all departments in Hyderabad. The old firm of Dhoni and Suresh Raina provided the impetus so badly required, the bowling passed muster and the fielding, bolstered by a profusion of young legs that doesn’t view that department as a chore to be endured, was positively stand-out.

India were charged up and hungry, but not gung-ho. More of the same must be on view at the Kotla, where hometown boys Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli will be keen as mustard to leave a lasting impression.

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