The Ashwin debate, Kohli the batsman goes missing: Talking points ahead of third Test

The two teams would be meeting each other at Headingley after nineteen years. While the hosts beat India in 1952, 1959 and 1967, they tasted defeat in 1986 and 2002. 

Published: 23rd August 2021 06:10 PM  |   Last Updated: 23rd August 2021 06:10 PM   |  A+A-

The Indian team take to the field for a nets session at Headingley cricket ground in Leeds, England, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. (Photo | AP)

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After a week-long gap, the India vs England rivalry resumes again at Headingley, with the visitors eyeing another win to make it 2-0.

At Lord's, England lost the plot completely on day five with their failed short-ball tactic to India's tailenders, followed by a batting horror in the final two sessions, which gave Kohli and Co a 151-run win.

As the action shifts to Leeds, England are now dealing with two worries -- out of form batters and a depleted new ball attack, with Mark Wood set to be sidelined due to a shoulder problem.

England players gather on the pitch for a nets session at Headingley cricket ground in Leeds, England, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. (Photo | AP)

The two teams would be meeting each other at Headingley after nineteen years. While the hosts beat India in 1952, 1959 and 1967, they tasted defeat in 1986 and 2002. 

In 2019, the venue saw one of the best Test matches, as England despite getting bowled out for 67 in the first innings against the Aussies, won the game by one wicket, as Ben Stokes' 135* and a 76-run tenth wicket partnership with Jack Leach saw the home side pulling off a miraculous 359-run chase.

Here are some of the key talking points ahead of the on-field action:

Where is batsman Kohli?

Virat Kohli, with his aggressive mentality and proactive captaincy, has passed the leadership test with distinction so far on this tour.

However, it's the batsman Kohli who has gone missing so far.

After his 136-run knock against Bangladesh in 2019, the next few outings have read: 2, 19, 3, 14, 74, 4, 11, 72, 0, 62, 27, 0, 44, 13, 0, 42 and 20.

India's Virat Kohli bats during a nets session at Headingley cricket ground in Leeds, England. (Photo | AP)

The stats looks worrying for his brilliant conversion rate. In the three innings in England so far, his known weakness outside off stump has proved to be the bane, giving flashbacks of the 2014 tour, where he could manage only 134 runs in 10 innings.

On the other hand, Kohli's England counterpart is leading the batting charts with 386 runs in four innings so far. When the two teams met each other in India earlier this year, Root dominated Kohli there too (368 runs in four games).

While the in-form openers and handy knocks from the middle and lower order have made up for Kohli's failures so far, the team management would be hoping for a quick reversal of fortunes for the India skipper, as it will give the visitors all-round batting dominance.

Why not Ashwin in playing XI?

While not compromising on its proven four pacers mantra, Kohli gave all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja a go in Trent Bridge and Lord's. In four innings, he managed to score 99 runs, while with the ball, he has conceded 98 runs in 52 overs so far, without a wicket. 

Fully acknowledging Jadeja's meteoric rise in Test cricket since 2016, Ravichandran Ashwin's continued absence from the playing XI has been equally surprising.

In the World Test Championship Final between India and New Zealand at Southampton, while Jadeja's stats read 1-45 in 15.2 overs, Ashwin proved to be more successful as he ended with figures of 4-45 in 25 overs.

India's Ravichandran Ashwin. (File | AP)

Since 2016, Ashwin, with 56 wickets in 15 matches outside Asia, has been at his peak, despite injuries. 

In SENA (South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia) countries, he has brought the close-in fielders into play by using the bounce of the pitches efficiently. With his record of dismissing left-handers more than 200 times and England likely to field Rory Burns, Dawid Malan, Moeen Ali, Sam Curran and James Anderson, Headingley could be the perfect stage for him to have a go at the hosts. Also, seven five-fors in his last ten county games show that these conditions are not alien to him by any stretch of imagination.

While Kohli may still prefer Jadeja's batting skills at number seven, considering the gloomy Headingley weather, it will be another injustice to Ashwin. 

While Jadeja the batsman has improved by leaps and bounds, he got only 29 wickets in his last 13 Tests. Ash, on the other hand, has taken 71 scalps in his last fourteen. Ashwin is no mug in the batting department either, with 2685 runs in 79 Tests.

England batting: One-man Army?

While 2021 has been all about Joe Root's amazing run in Test cricket (1259 runs in 12 matches), it has not been a rosy period for England, thanks to an inexperienced and inconsistent batting line-up.

Despite starting the year with a 2-0 win in Sri Lanka, England plummeted to 1-3 and 0-1 losses against India and New Zealand.

The top order of Zack Crawley, Dom Sibley and Rory Burns have been walking wickets. Burns has already earned the infamy of getting squared up against the pacers, apart from being a perfect LBW candidate. Despite making a fighting 49 at Lord's, his troubles are far from over. 

Englnd's Dawid Malan, centre, during a nets session before the 3rd Test cricket match between England and India at Headingley cricket ground in Leeds. (Photo | AP)

Crawley has scored one fifty in the last 15 innings and his average is just 28.94 after 22 matches. With the out of form Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow adding more woes, the only silver lining in the past few months has been Daniel Lawrence (329 runs in six matches).

With the team management in no hurry to force Ben Stokes to come out of his mental health break, left hander Dawid Malan has been called into action for the third Test. 

Malan (724 runs in 15 Tests), who will be making a comeback to the national side after three years, was England's highest run-scorer during the 2017/18 Ashes (383 runs in five encounters). 

With Haseeb Hameed who made 0 and 9 at Lord's set to open with Burns, things look far from perfect for the hosts.

Injuries take steam out of hosts' pace attack

Jofra Archer (elbow), Chris Woakes (heel), Stuart Broad (calf), Olly Stone (back) and Mark Wood (shoulder) are among England's casualties.

The hosts' much fancied pace attack is now in total shambles, with their five-match assignment against India not even entering the business end.

While James Anderson has taken nine wickets in two games, Ollie Robinson, who made his debut against New Zealand a couple of months back, is the only other pacer to match up to the England legend's intensity.

England's James Anderson bowls during a nets session at Headingley cricket ground in Leeds, England, Monday. (Photo | AP)

Sam Curran, who had a smashing debut against Kohli's men three years back (11 wickets in four Tests), has been going at an average of 171 this time around. 

Wood, who suffered a shoulder injury while fielding during day four at Lord's, aggravated it further in pursuit of bouncing out Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami on the following day, a move which failed horribly.

With only Craig Overton and Saqib Mahmood added to the squad, things look bleak for England.

Mahmood, whose raw pace rocked Pakistan in the ODI series last month at home, may add some spark to the hosts' depleted pace attack. Still, it will be a tall task for him in front of an Indian batting line-up, whose lower order too has scored runs of late.


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