Hindustan Times (Jammu)


- Sportsdesk@hindustant­imes.com

Rohit Sharma needs to play his way, not block aimlessly. Focus must be on building partnershi­ps (India’s highest is 90 so far, compared to England’s 112).

India spreading their field wide despite sitting on a 300-plus lead was a step back. Put more men in their face, especially when the spinners are on.

That a second seamer won’t be of any use was apparent in the Visakhapat­nam Test. India still picked Mukesh Kumar and denied themselves a better allrounder in Washington Sundar.

Ashwin’s success against right-handers and Bumrah’s incisive spells show data and matchups are overrated. Ditch them, go with instinct. Give Kuldeep a more prominent role.

They have been playing differentl­y, there’s no doubt about it.”

To not match them shot for shot, thus, is the first favour India can do themselves. That will eradicate the need to, say, play a reverse sweep that brought about Gill’s dismissal — the biggest turning point of India’s second innings. Rightly identifyin­g the time to slow down and consolidat­e starts without retreating into a shell is also an instinct India’s batters need to hone quickly. Ollie Pope has already done it successful­ly once with Ben Foakes at Hyderabad, raising 112 runs for the sixth wicket in a match altering stand. And while India have won at Visakhapat­nam, they could have been in an even better position to dictate the terms had Gill built on that 89-run sixth-wicket stand with Patel in the second innings.

Getting the selection right is another non-negotiable. A distinct difference in the way Stokes and Sharma have functioned is their personnel management. England came to India aware of their bowling limitation­s but found a working combinatio­n. But India shying away from deploying the one pacer-three spinners combinatio­n despite England taking 40 Indian wickets with the same makes even less sense now. That too, when India already have two highly functionin­g operators in Bumrah and Ashwin.

“Whenever he comes back on, you know Rohit’s looking for a wicket,” Stokes said of Bumrah. With someone to provide such a headstart in every Test, the onus is on Sharma to run a tight ship, without having to factor in a few sloppy overs. Streamlini­ng the line of attack is as important as making it productive, and England have looked ahead of India on that front.

At a deeper level, the teams’ collective psychology seems to be driving performanc­es in this series more than skill. Stokes — and his team of mavericks — is walking the talk of charging at targets as impossible as 399, even managing to turn a once-conservati­ve Joe Root into a pedlar of reverse sweeps against Ashwin. Liberated from the grind of the usual lines of assessment, this team is growing to be the mirror image of Stokes, who is devoted to leaving everything on the field but at the same time detached from the rewards attached to it.

That England have chosen this way to proceed with the game is their choice. For India however to display some semblance of swagger at home, they must instil once again the pride and belief that made them runaway favourites in the last decade. That should be Sharma’s biggest priority.

England were at the receiving end of Jasprit Bumrah’s sensationa­l spell in the second Test but head coach Brendon McCullum expects his players to work out a way to tackle the immense threat posed by the star Indian pacer.

Bumrah ran through the England batting line-up returning figures of 6/45 to help dismiss the tourists for 253 in their first innings and set up India’s series-levelling win in Visakhapat­nam. McCullum was non committal when asked how England plan to deal with Bumrah in the remaining three Tests, simply saying that his team does not believe in theories.

“We don’t really do theories. It is about making sure the guys are totally clear and present, confident and have conviction in their method. They are a lot better than I ever was and they will work it out how best to go about it,” McCullum said.

“There are contrastin­g ways of going about it...we will see where we get to. For now, we have to tip our cap to Jasprit and say that spell (in the first innings of the second Test) was as good as anything we have seen so far on this trip,” he was quoted as saying by ‘ESPNcricin­fo’.

The former New Zealand captain, however, lauded the skillsets the Indian strike bowler possess. “It’s all condition-dependent. When the ball is swinging like that he becomes even more of a threat. He is a fantastic bowler in all forms of the game. He is unique with his release points and with how much swing he can generate in the air.

“No doubt he is very good, but we have come up against very good bowlers all through the last 18 months or so and found ways to counter them and that is what we have got to do in this one.”

He also said that the 1-1 scoreline after two Tests was a “fair reflection that we’re in the contest”. “We’ve played some really good cricket over the last two Tests. Yes, we have come out on the wrong side of it here, but we got it across the line in the first one. The conviction about how we go about it is as strong as it ever has been. We have done some really good things over the last couple of weeks.”

The England side flew back to Abu Dhabi, their pre-series base, after the second Test in Visakhapat­nam. They will return to India on February 12 and reach Rajkot on the same day ahead of the third Test beginning on February 15.

C Ambrose (98) 1988-2000, WI



(Minimum 150)

M Shami (64)

J Garner (58) 1977-1987, WI

M Marshall (81) 1978-1991, WI

S Barnes (27 TESTS) 1901-1914, ENG

R Jadeja (69)



J Srinath (67) 1991-2002

(Minimum 150)

Kapil Dev (131) 1978-1994

G McGrath (124) 1993-2007, AUS

R Ashwin (97)

A Kumble (132) 1990-2008

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