The only team that could afford to lose the first Test did at Edgbaston. Imagine England coming to Lord’s, expected to be drier than Edgbaston, 1-0 down, sans Ben Stokes, having somehow messed up in swing-friendly conditions despite the availability of their best bowling resources. They very nearly did through a run-out and through dropped catches. Had England not closed out Edgbaston, they would have begun to doubt whether they could close this India team out at all.
India, on the other hand, couldn’t go in with their first-choice bowling resources. The conditions are expected to favour them more at Lord’s, where the pitch wore a green look two days out but is expected to be drier. India have more spin options, and their best new-ball bowler is injured. Despite the failure to win the first Test, India have positives to look at. India’s bowling, while still not consistently of the match-winning variety in these conditions, looks better and deeper than it often does. If it doesn’t fall apart, it will keep them more competitive than if only their batting was working.
England are possibly dangerous too. They know they weren’t even close to playing the perfect Test with the bat and in the field, and yet they have a lead in the series. They will also know from experience from their tour of India and Australia that visiting teams tend to crack sooner if they are kept under consistent pressure. They will look to do that at Lord’s. Just keep building that pressure the way they did on the final day at Edgbaston and then pounce on the opportunities that come their way.
Except that England will have to do it without Ben Stokes, who brings an important complement to the correct, traditional Test-match bowling of James Anderson and Stuart Broad. He is a different challenge after you have faced that immaculate inquiry from the two quicks. His body falls away, he is not always accurate, he tends to get uneven bounce; he messes with the rhythm. His possible replacement is another correct, classic bowler, Chris Woakes, or an offspinner, Moeen Ali. It is a big hole that India might want to exploit.
In the spotlight
The man most annoyed with the Kohli-is-left-alone narrative should be Ajinkya Rahane. He has played two Tests in this overseas cycle and has scored a crucial 48 on a brutish pitch in one of them, in Johannesburg. In the previous cycle, he was even more important than Kohli, waging a lone fight in Durban, setting up a win at Lord’s, counterattacking to take the pressure off Kohli in Melbourne. And yet – starting with his struggles against spin in India, continuous cricket on spin-friendly tracks, and then the scarcely believable axing in South Africa – his game looks a wreck. Then again, he has his chances now, and in the ruthless world of international cricket what is being talked about is his average of 10.72 in seven Tests in the last 12 months. The man likeliest to support Kohli has to stand up, and stand up now.
You could almost see India taking a backward step the time Jonny Bairstow got into his innings. Root scored the most pristine runs, Kohli the most evocative ones, but Bairstow came closest to dominating. He has the form, the confidence and the intent that England require in the middle to negate the spin threat at Lord’s. More so, now that England’s batting is thinner in Stokes’ absence.
England made one change the day after the Test, partly to deny R Ashwin so many left-hand batsmen to feast on, partly as a response to Dawid Malan’s form with the bat and in the slips. The 20-year-old promising right-hand batsman Ollie Pope has been confirmed to make his debut. Which one out of Woakes and Moeen plays will depend on the pitch and the forecast.
England 1 Alastair Cook, 2 Keaton Jennings, 3 Joe Root (capt.), 4 Ollie Pope, 5 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 6 Jos Buttler, 7 Chris Woakes/Moeen Ali, 8 Adil Rashid, 9 Sam Curran, 10 Stuart Broad, 11 James Anderson.
India have never played the same XI in successive Tests under Kohli. It will be a surprise if they do so at Lord’s. The questions they have: do they need an extra batsman, do they need an extra spinner, and who should the reinforcements be?
If India go for that extra batsman, it will mean leaving out Hardik Pandya, who admittedly didn’t get much to bowl but was India’s second-highest run-getter at Edgbaston. Listening to Bharat Arun, India’s bowling coach who has seen the pitch, India don’t seem ready to make the “conservative” move of going in with only four bowlers.
Even if the combination doesn’t change, will India keep persisting with Shikhar Dhawan, in whom they have put the trust earlier teams used to invest in Virender Sehwag? And if they don’t, do they pick Cheteshwar Pujara, who hasn’t had a great time in England this year or Karun Nair, who will come with less baggage and memories of a triple-century against the same opposition?
Havin raised all these questions, this might well be the time India don’t change their XI under Kohli.
India 1 M Vijay, 2 Shikhar Dhawan/Cheteshwar Pujara, 3 KL Rahul, 4 Virat Kohli (capt.), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 R Ashwin, 8 Hardik Pandya, 9 Ravindra Jadeja/Umesh Yadav, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Mohammed Shami
Pitch and conditions
The Lord’s ground staff has worked hard to maintain a tinge of green on the pitch despite the heatwave in England. The days of the Test match itself are expected to be cooler with the odd shower around. The conditions underfoot are expected to be similar to Edgbaston, which raises the question to which we don’t have a definitive answer: will the ball swing similarly too?
Stats and trivia
The last time England beat an Asian opponent at Lord’s was India in 2011. Since then they have lost three and drawn two Tests with Asian teams at Lord’s.
James Anderson averages 14.5 against Kohli in England and 92 in India.
During the course of his five-for at Edgbaston, Ishant Sharma went past B Chandrasekhar to become India’s seventh-highest wicket-taker. He has the joint-highest number of five-fors for Indians in England: two.
Alastair Cook has converted his last two centuries into doubles, but he has scored only two of those in 21 Tests now. Despite those big innings, he averages 34.71 over the period.
At Edgbaston, both sides dropped four catches each. While it is near impossible to calculate the damage caused – partnerships are formed, momentum is lost, bowlers get tired – the reprieved batsmen went on to cost England 154 runs, and India 86.
“One of the most exciting things about last week is that we weren’t at our best, but we found a way to win under pressure, and wrestle momentum back in our favour. That’s a sign of some strong characters in our dressing room. And having had some indifferent results in the recent past, to pull off a win like that is a really good sign for us moving forward.”
England captain Joe Root is aware they didn’t start the series with their perfect game