Pressure on India to deliver

Pressure on India to deliver

TIME TO PONDER: Skipper Virat Kohli (right) and his deputy Ajinkya Rahane during India's practice session at Lord's on Wednesday. Reuters

It’s been an unusual summer in the United Kingdom. The sun has been shining in all its glory with just a few drops of rain here and there. Such has the been its impact, it has even left legendary Lord’s groundsman Mick Hunt scratching his head.

“This pitch (preparation) here for this India Test match has been very challenging because it's so hot here. These temperatures are alien to us. It’s 31 degree Celsius but out in the middle it's 34-35 degrees. Hopefully, fingers crossed, it'll be all right,” Hunt, who has been preparing the pitch at the mecca of cricket for the last 49 years, said just ahead of the second game against England that gets underway on Thursday.

Hunt is not the only man who’s facing a tough time in conditions that are alien. Raised on flatbed tracks where they score runs for fun, the Indian batsmen were like rabbits caught in front of headlights in Birmingham. On a pitch that had some moisture at the start and continuously offered help to the pacers, the Indian batting, save skipper Virat Kohli, didn't measure up to the task.

If not for Virat Kohli, who alone scored nearly half of India’s combined tally in the match, the visitors could have been left totally embarrassed rather than heart-broken in the end. Although England will be missing all-rounder Ben Stokes, the man who had the final say in what is considered one of the most pulsating contests fought between the two sides, they have a lot of firepower in their arsenal and Indian batsmen will need to get their act together before things spiral out of control.

Judging by the proceedings at the nets on the eve of the game, it looks like the team management may play Cheteshwar Pujara in place of Shikhar Dhawan. Pujara did flop for Yorkshire, scoring just 172 runs in six County games just before this series, but he at least spent time out here and has a better feel of the conditions. Dhawan is excellent on flat tracks but owing to his poor technique, he often ends up throwing up his wicket or is sent packing early.

On the other hand, Pujara, although he too has a poor away record, at least shows the willingness to guts it out in the middle. Even when things aren’t going his way, he tries to eat up as many deliveries, thereby buying some time for the middle-order. The Saurashtra batsman spent a long time batting in the nets over the last two days, taking throw-downs and facing seamers as well as spinners.

The Indians all but ruled out playing an extra batsman which means they will play five bowlers who did exceedingly well in Birmingham. The task at Lord’s though could be trickier as adjusting to the famous slope can sometimes be a headache, even for the batsmen.

England may be in front but they have some serious concerns too. Even their top-order has looked shaky in recent times with Alastair Cook undone by the guile of R Ashwin in both innings. Other opener Keaton Jennings has failed to grab his chances with one-drop Joe Root forced to carry bulk of the workload in recent times. England will be relying on their strong middle-order to deliver the goods but they too wobbled against the disciplined Indian attack. England have been atrocious with their slip catching, just like India, and although they’ve dropped main culprit Dawid Malan, who will be replaced by Olivier Pope in the XI, they know they need some discipline in that department.

Both teams have the same vulnerabilities — shaky batting and poor slip fielding. Both teams have the same strength — bowling. It’s going to be another battle of equals but the pressure is more on India to deliver.


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