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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay cement opening slots for England tour: India-Afghanistan cricket Test takeaways

Paul Radley provides four takeaways from the final five-day match India played before their series in England

India off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, right, took a match-total of five wickets. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo
India off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, right, took a match-total of five wickets. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo

Much was made in the fall out to the two-day Test in Bengaluru of the substantial amount Afghanistan will have learnt.

The defeated team were painfully far off the pace, and will have to work “five times” as hard in future, according to their coach Phil Simmons, to be competitive.

Quite what the victors India will have taken from the innings and 262-run win – their heftiest ever win – is less clear.

After a string of limited-overs matches in Ireland and England, they will play a five-Test series in the UK, starting in August.

India have reached No 1 in the world on the strength of away form that is better than any other side in the game.

That said, England has generally proved to be their toughest challenge in the past. On their previous two tours there, in 2011 and 2014, India have lost seven Tests and won just one.

So what pointers can they take from the Afghan thrashing?

India's Murali Vijay, right, and Shikhar Dhawan, left, both scored centuries against Afghanistan. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo
India's Murali Vijay, right, and Shikhar Dhawan, left, both scored centuries against Afghanistan. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo

Openers

An advert trailing the England series on Indian television does a good job recapping just how tough it can be for top-order batsmen in England.

It shows a clip from the last tour in 2014, of James Anderson swinging the ball prodigiously to Shikhar Dhawan, and catching the outside edge.

It is hard to simulate such a challenge, but India tried in Bengaluru. The pitch at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, which was recently relaid to give it greater carry, had a healthy covering of grass.

As such, Afghanistan’s rookie new-ball bowlers found some swing and seam. Not that it mattered much. India’s openers found the going easy, as both Dhawan and Murali Vijay notched centuries.

Lokesh Rahul, left, is likely to be pipped by teammate Murali Vijay, right, to the opening spot during the England Test tour. Aijaz Rahi) / AP Photo
Lokesh Rahul, left, is likely to be pipped by teammate Murali Vijay, right, to the opening spot during the England Test tour. Aijaz Rahi) / AP Photo

'Special thing'

What it meant was Dhawan and Vijay will be certain to open the innings in England, rather than Lokesh Rahul or anyone else.

Vijay was India’s leading runscorer when they lost 3-1 four years ago, with 402. His century against Afghanistan arrived in spite of a dearth of cricket of late.

He played just once in the Indian Premier League, and his captain was impressed by his form.

“Any hundred against any opponent is a special thing,” stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane said. “Murali Vijay took his time, playing for the first time in two months.”

Dhawan, too, was happy with his stay at the crease, which brought him the first century by an Indian before lunch on the first day of a Test.

“Of course, the ball was swinging and seaming but I was clear in my mind and it went my way,” Dhawan said after collecting the man of the match award.

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Ajinkya Rahane, right, proved to be a ruthless captain while standing in for Virat Kohli. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo
Ajinkya Rahane, right, proved to be a ruthless captain while standing in for Virat Kohli. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo

Ruthless captaincy

The fact Rahane sent the Afghans straight back in to follow on, and India went on to bowl them out twice in the space of two sessions, meant no extra batting practice.

Rahane should be applauded for maintaining the integrity of the match by trying to win it in the most ruthless fashion possible, rather than turn it into a glorified net.

But players like himself and Cheteshwar Pujara could have done with the time in the middle.

With Virat Kohli running through yo-yo tests elsewhere on site in Bengaluru, it was a reminder that there are only a certain amount of batting berths to go round. Someone is going to have to make when we he returns.

India left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja is one of India's top two spinners in Test cricket, the other being Ravichandran Ashwin. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo
India left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja is one of India's top two spinners in Test cricket, the other being Ravichandran Ashwin. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo

Spin twins

The green pitch was not only testing for the batsmen. Ravichandran Ashwin had match figures of 5-59, while slow-left armer Ravindra Jadeja returned 6-35.

Two front-line spinners are not always seen as an essential requirement in a starting XI in England, but Rahane said the spin duo have shown they are more than capable.

“We wanted to create such a pitch, because we are going to play five Test matches [in England],” Rahane said.

“We wanted to practise like what we are going to face in England. Ashwin and Jadeja are quality bowlers who can bowl on any surface.”