India couldn’t have asked for a better start to the all-important England tour, when they were in the driver’s seat after beating the home side at Lord’s in the second Test. After being pummelled in yet another Test at home, it seemed as if the beleaguered hosts would not manage to make a comeback in the five-match long series.
The Alastair Cook-led side was struggling with their batting and was scattered all over the place. On the other hand, India, who had won a Test outside the sub-continent after almost three long years, looked all set to create history.
Even though Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan were struggling with the bat, Indian batting was looking solid, courtesy the outstanding form of Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane. Indian seamers too were doing more than a decent job.
In between, many Indian cricket lovers, and for that matter critics, would have forgotten that India are still among one of the most unpredictable sides in the world. But when India visited Rose Bowl to play the third Test, MS Dhoni’s fortune took a U-turn. Ishant Sharma – India`s hero at Lord’s, got injured and was ruled out of the third Test. Everyone expected Dhoni to pick R Aswhin as a replacement for the lanky speedster. But Indian skipper, who is known for his on-field gambling traits, took a chance with inexperienced speedster Pankaj Singh, which was not at all a bad choice. However, his second change proved to be a blunder. All-rounder Stuart Binny was replaced by Rohit Sharma, which raised many eyebrows. And in the hindsight, the decision to play with a six-four combination backfired.
By the end of third Test, India being the most generous side in international cricket, gifted the much-needed momentum to the home team. In fact, now the advantage is with the hosts as the tourists are on the back foot. All English batsmen are back in form, and on top of it, a part-time bowler like Moeen Ali has now started dictating terms – thanks to some casual approach by Indian top and middle-order batsmen.
With two matches left in the series, England are in a strong position. But unlike English players, who are used to playing five-match long Test series’, Indian players, especially the speedsters have started feeling the heat, as the series is heading towards Manchester city. After Ishant Sharma, now Bhuvneshwar Kumar too is struggling with his fitness.
Dhoni needs to use his bowlers carefully and should try not to give them long spells, especially seamers. But considering the way India have lost their grip in the series, it has once again raised fingers on Dhoni`s Test captaincy.
From here on, if India want to bounce back in the series, the first thing they would desperately need is the support of their batting mainstays -- Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara. It’s high time the duo get some fine knocks under their belt. Another urgent requirement is to replace out-of-form opener Shikhar Dhawan with more experienced southpaw Gautam Gambhir, who was picked as a reserve opener in the series.
The fourth Test will kick off on August 7 at Manchester. And India need to ponder on many things. The first would be sticking to the basics. Indian batsmen need to put a high price tag on their wickets, whereas bowlers need to learn the trait of picking wickets in English conditions.
Though the series is evenly poised at 1-1, England, who have finally won a Test after a gap of 10 matches, have an upper hand. Now the onus is on both the skippers to lead from the front and give their respective teams a crucial lead in the upcoming Test.