India vs England, 2016

Five days are sometimes enough to turn a bad summer around, or dent a good year. Before Rajkot, only one team could have wished for rank turners. Now, even England, who faced spiteful tracks in Bangladesh and were forced to introspect, could actually hit Vizag thinking, ‘Our spinners bowled a bit better, our batsmen tackled spin decently, so bring on the sandpits!’ India, who have been trampling the opponents with spin for a year now, were given a reality dose at Rajkot. To see Virat Kohli indulging in time-delaying tactics in the end to ensure they didn’t have to bat out many overs was sensible, yes, but also would have upped the brownie points for England.
Of course, it’s one thing to think you can handle sandpits and actually do it when faced with a crumbler, with balls jumping and skidding from front of you, where not only Ravichandran Ashwin but Ravindra Jadeja can be a real handful, but England can take heart from their Rajkot performance and not go into the rest of the series with a feeling of dread. Things might tilt back to status quo if Indians step up their game, and especially if R Ashwin — who went wicketless for 57 overs between his second and third wicket — bounces back, but at least we can now hope for a hard-fought series.
It won’t be a surprise if Ashwin rebounds in style, for he has been in glorious form, but Indian batting could do with more application. The thing with this Indian batting is that their performance in the first Test can’t be casually dismissed and put down to complacency. That would be a PR spin for there was enough iffiness and vulnerability in their batting here that suggested that this young team can be put under pressure if the bowling is decent enough. It’s not as if the talent isn’t there but the muddled thinking when faced with scoreboard pressure and hardworking spinners can result in faulty shot-making.
Take Ajinkya Rahane for instance. Runs across the globe, and even in India as well, but he can’t relax and try manufacturing shots. In other words, he can’t lull himself into an auto-pilot thinking he has a water-tight game and it’s enough to just walk to the middle and runs would flow. It’s not to say he relaxed here — we aren’t psychologists — but an honest look-in would reveal his shot selections weren’t good. In the first innings, if he thought he was VVS Laxman and could whip left-arm breaks to the on side even if they landed full on a length, he was mistaken. In the second innings, he got locked up in his position so much, intent on trying to play an offspinner against the turn, that he was stunned by a big-turning off break that ricocheted off his pads and fell on the stumps. More application is the need of the hour.

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