Perhaps, the narrow margin of defeat in the first Test has convinced India that the series is still wide open. When a winning team can think of making changes to its XI, the losers will certainly look hard at their performance. India could make one change and even a second after looking at the pitch in the unprecedented London heat. Demands of the situation may bring Cheteshwar Pujara back, not because he has had any cricket after the first Test to press his claims.
Pujara will be there by default, as Shikhar Dhawan appeared clueless against the moving ball and the choice is between the southpaw and another top-order failure KL Rahul, who is more at home against the new ball. The team management might be looking at Kuldeep Yadav as a possible replacement for Umesh Yadav, using Hardik Pandya as a third seamer. What could make Kuldeep play is his success in the limited-over series and England’s struggle against the variations of Ravichandran Ashwin in the first Test.
Kuldeep might be preferred to the more experienced Ravindra Jadeja because he can turn the ball either way. Birmingham Man of the Match Sam Curran sent out a simple message to the Indian team management: “I just played my natural game.” The 20-year-old said what the Indian thinktank should have told its lower-order batsmen. All that India needed was a handful of runs from Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav to take their team across the line.
They were all capable of getting those 32 runs for victory. Some eight years ago, Ishant stood with VVS Laxman at Mohali to win a Test against Australia. At Edgbaston, all those 50s Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar scored on India’s last tour to England four years ago raised hopes of the tail wagging in the company of the hard-hitting Hardik Pandya. Pandya should have believed that he could get runs shielding the tail, but he left it to fate. The tail-enders tried to dig in rather than playing their natural game. A few boundaries, snicks or well-connected, would have put pressure on England. In the end, India was so heavily dependent on its captain, it panicked once he was dismissed.
All mainline batsmen must make solid contributions if they have to win the series. Despite winning the first Test, England are also not exactly in great mood. They are without all-rounder Ben Stokes, the man who bowled them to victory on the fourth morning when the match was balanced on a knife’s edge. England’s batting also looked brittle and their most experienced player Alastair Cook was bowled twice by a similar Ashwin delivery, a spectacle which looked uglier than that of Dhawan’s dismissals. England have also dropped Dawid Malan, more, perhaps, because of dropping crucial catches, than his panicky batting. In his place comes a prolific domestic scorer for Surrey, Ollie Pope. The 20-year-old will play his 16th first-class game at Lord’s. (The writer is a veteran commentator & views are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)