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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

Batting support for Virat Kohli a priority: Talking points ahead of England v India Test at Lord's

Spotlight set to fall on Ollie Pope after the 20-year-old right-hander was called up to replace Dawid Malan

Virat Kohli was the only Indian batsman to contribute significant runs at Edgbaston. Reuters
Virat Kohli was the only Indian batsman to contribute significant runs at Edgbaston. Reuters

As he walked from the field, emotionally drained after the first Test at Edgbaston, Ben Stokes reflected that England’s 31-run success had been a great triumph, given it was “against a side like India”.

The implication being that, though many observers had pointed out how tough touring England can be, the hosts themselves were under no illusions of the task they faced.

India were, and remain, the world’s No 1 Test team. They are there by dint of a fine record overseas.

And yet it is the tourists who have spent the time since second-guessing quite where they go from here.

India need answers quickly it they are to level the series at Lord’s, with the Test starting on Thursday.

They should be optimistic of doing so, though. The Indians have, after all, won two of their past three Tests at Lord’s, while the home side are not without problems of their own.

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Read more:

Paul Radley: England's 1,000th Test may not save five-day game but it will live long in memory

Virat Kohli: India captain urges teammates to remain 'positive and fearless' for second Test

England v India predictions: Virat Kohli to inspire his side to Test series victory

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India’s batting

Back in June, when India beat Afghanistan within two days in a Test in Bangalore, Ajinkya Rahane, the captain for the match, offered some words of advice.

“It is just about playing the matches,” Rahane said. “Five-day, Test-match cricket is all about attitude and patience.”

It is difficult to berate India’s players too much, given the schedule that is limited-overs heavy is foist upon them. But they would have been better prepared for the first Test had they heeded Rahane’s advice.

No wonder their batsmen seemed ill-suited to cope given the lead-in. The scheduled four-day practice match against Essex was trimmed to three, and they had apparently tried to reduce that yet further, to two.

It gave their batsmen a little more than a day of match practice against a red ball, which might go some way to explaining why only Virat Kohli managed anything significant at Edgbaston.

Bring back Pujara?

India batsman Cheteshwar Pujara, left and head coach Ravi Shastri. AP Photo
India batsman Cheteshwar Pujara, left and head coach Ravi Shastri. AP Photo

Restoring Cheteshwar Pujara to the line-up might feel like the obvious thing to do. But it is not a guarantee of better returns for India.

Pujara was apparently stood down for the first Test on account of a pedestrian strike-rate. If that was all that was the problem, he should return forthwith: slow scoring is not India’s problem. There was the best part of two days left over at Edgbaston.

But Pujara’s form hardly demands he plays. He might be sixth in the world rankings for batsmen, but his form in red-ball cricket is abject. In England this summer, he has batted six times, and scored 96 runs at 16. Stretching further back, he also has a top score of 50 in his past nine Test innings.

On balance, though, promoting KL Rahul to open in place of Shikhar Dhawan, and putting Pujara at first drop might help solve a problem at Lord’s.

England’s all-rounders

Sam Curran starred with the ball and bat at Edgbaston. Reuters
Sam Curran starred with the ball and bat at Edgbaston. Reuters

Sam Curran’s revelatory performance in the first Test was a major boon for England. More than a few home supporters might have feared for the team’s chances when the young left-armer was given the ball, first change, against India’s celebrated batting line-up.

Then he proceeded to take four wickets, setting up the game for England – a trick he extended with the bat in the match’s third innings – on his way to the match award.

Such promise will help soften the loss of Ben Stokes. As will the fact England could easily fit in another experienced all-rounder to replace him, without too much alteration to the balance of the side.

Moeen Ali does not have a dissimilar record in Tests to Stokes. And his return to the XI would give the hosts another spin option, alongside Adil Rashid.

Malan’s malaise

Dawid Malan has been dropped for the second Test at Lord's. Reuters
Dawid Malan has been dropped for the second Test at Lord's. Reuters

England had seven left-handed batsmen in their XI at Edgbaston. Much was made of the added advantage that gives Ravi Ashwin and his offbreaks, turning away and challenging the outside edge.

The same went for Ishant Sharma, whose main mode of delivery goes across left-handers. The fact he was a threat was evidenced in the fact he took five wickets in the second innings.

To combat the problem England have opted to add the 20-year-old right-hander Ollie Pope to the middle-order, in place of Dawid Malan.

It is a pity for Malan, who might have felt due a change of fortune when playing at his home ground this week.

Despite his tender years, Pope has been earmarked for the England team for some while now, and was with the squad in an informal capacity for the game against Pakistan at Lord’s earlier this summer.

His elevation to the playing XI is, however, earlier than many had expected, and it will be intriguing to see how he copes with the wiles of Ashwin and Co.