Date: July 27, 2014
Venue: Rose Bowl, Southampton
Start Time: 11 am BST (3.30 pm IST)
It has been a series between two teams with modest qualities in this format of the game, but if anything it has made it an even more interesting one to watch. Of course, the quality of Test matches these days is quite dependent on the pitch of which the game is being played and the same was on display in the first couple of Tests.
When the teams went out at Trent Bridge, the pitch would have surprised both sides. It had a brown look to it and seemed tailor-made for the visitors but it came up so slow that bowlers from either side struggled on it. As a result, not even three innings were completed in the game.
Lord’s made for a better pitch. In fact, if there was ever a template written down on how pitches should behave, the one at Lord’s for the second Test will sit right at the top. One could be forgiven for thinking the game was being played on the grass courts of the neighbouring SW19 instead of Lord’s on the first day but as the game went on, it went from becoming flatter and providing batsmen something to work with to crumbling to dust and giving the slow bowlers an option to get wickets on it.
As it turned out, it was India who out-batted, out-bowled and out-thought their opponents and won their first Test abroad in 17 matches, to go 1-0 up in the five-match series. The third Test, subject to the pitch obviously, should be another exciting contest.
It’s no surprise that the media and the fans are baying for England captain, Alastair Cook’s blood. As if losing the Ashes series 5-0 to their arch-rivals Australia wasn’t enough, England have now gone on to lose a series to Sri Lanka at home for the first time and then succumbed to India on a pitch that should have suited them.
Another defeat here will almost sound the death-knell as far as Cook’s captaincy is concerned, a draw might extend his stay a little but for a team which hasn’t won a Test since August 2013, the pressure is mounting and how.
After losing back to back away series in England and Australia – and 4-0 apiece, no less – the pressure on Indian captain MS Dhoni’s shoulders was immense. That he managed to still retain captaincy was a surprise in itself but to his and the team’s credit, they did show some of their resilient ways in South Africa and New Zealand over the four Tests they played there.
India still managed to lose both those series but had a lot of positives coming out for them, given the young side that it is in the wake of the retirements of the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid. And those performances finally converted into a win at Lord’s, only their second victory at that ground since they started playing cricket.
What would have pleased Dhoni and his men even more was that the win was achieved in conditions which were as similar to those back home as chalk is to cheese. The big question now is whether they can keep up the momentum.
England need Cook and/or Ian Bell to fire, simple as that. Without their engine going anywhere, the rest of the side has been bit of a start-stop all summer and that can only be turned around if their key guys get a move on. Both have struggled in recent times but at least one of them could come good here.
India must not forget that there have been quite a few occasions already when the team has been rescued by the lower-order batting – Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been a rock at number nine and the rest of the tail has chipped in as well. The top half of the order, Shikhar Dhawan if he plays and Virat Kohli, need to take up a lot more responsibility here.
As is often the case with Tests, there’s always that ebb and flow that dictates the match but the interesting bit is that despite England’s poor recent showing they start off as favourites in this one – 2.75 for their win to 2.75 for a drawn game. India are a little way away at 3.4 to win this but given how closely the teams are matched, I will refrain from the match odds.
Instead, given that there’re talks of the pitch being a green one again, I will go for no century to be scored in the first innings of the match (2 at bet365) and the team batting second to take the first innings lead.
No century in first innings a 2.0 with Bet365
Team batting second to lead first innings
(England 1.8 at SkyBet & India 2.15 at Sportingbet).