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What India need to do to avoid a 5-0 whitewash

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Virat_Kohli_India_England_Test_CricketIndia were annihilated at Lord’s and now trail 2-0 in the 5-Test series against England. They face an uphill task to stage a recovery and avoid a 5-0 whitewash. India have played a series of 5 Tests or more on 34 occasions and have been whitewashed just twice. The first time was against England in 1959 and the second was against the West Indies in 1962.

Winning the series from this position will be a Herculean task, as only once in Test history has a team come back from 0-2 down to win a 5 Test series. Australia, led by Don Bradman, beat England 3-2 in 1936 to achieve this feat.

India can avoid a 5-0 humiliation if they get their act together and correct their errors. Here are 6 things they need to do to stage a comeback.

Clarity of thought and no muddled team selection.

Reading the pitch is not an exact science and there are bound to be errors in team selection. However, India have chosen their playing XI poorly in both the Tests so far. At Edgbaston, they played an extra seamer when a second spinner might have been a better choice, while at Lord’s they did not do themselves any favours by picking Kuldeep Yadav, who went wicketless in the Test.

If it was just a mistake in reading the pitch, the decision could be excusable. But what rankled Indian fans were the contradictory reasons given for the decision. The entire 1st day at Lord’s had been washed out due to rain and therefore it would have been prudent to select an extra seamer even if spin has been India’s strength over the years. But Kohli said that he would also have fielded if he had won the toss. If a team is playing an extra spinner, then it makes sense to bat first on winning the toss and allow the spinners to bowl last on a deteriorating pitch. Or else pick an extra seamer if the intention was to bowl first. This contradictory thinking showed a muddled mind and lack of clarity in thinking.

Openers need to give better starts and take the shine off the new ball.

It may sound like a cliché but India’s openers need to get their act together and give their team better starts to avoid putting the batsmen following them under enormous pressure.

India’s average partnership for the opening wicket in Tests commencing from 1st January 2013 outside the subcontinent is just 23.55 over 40 innings without a single century partnership, and just 4 fifty run partnerships. India’s average outside the sub-continent during this period is the 3rd lowest among all Test playing countries and only Pakistan and Bangladesh have fared worse. This puts Virat Kohli under tremendous pressure as he is forced to resurrect the innings and bail his team out of trouble instead of playing positively and going after the bowling.

They cannot afford any knee-jerk reactions in selection.

While there will be some changes in the playing XI for Trent Bridge, India should resist the temptation to make wholesale changes to their batting order. The fact of the matter is that no batsman other than Kohli has got his act together in the series. Making drastic changes just to quieten the hue and cry will be shooting themselves in the foot.

Trent Bridge is known to assist the pacers more than the spinners. One logical change would be to induct Jasprit Bumrah (if fit) instead of Kuldeep Yadav. Shikhar Dhawan could be considered as he is the only batsman other than Kohli who looks to transfer the pressure back onto the bowlers and score at a brisk clip. They should not make too many changes to the batting line-up just for the sake of introducing fresh blood, as that would spell panic.

England’s tail should not be allowed to wag.

None of England’s batsmen are rabbits with the bat and most of them are useful contributors with the bat. However, in both Tests, the Indian bowlers have been guilty of letting England’s tail wag.

There is nothing more frustrating and deflating for a team than watching the lower order of the opposition plunder runs and dig their team out of trouble. At Edgbaston, India had England in trouble at 87/7 in their 2nd innings, only for the last 3 wickets to add 93 runs. At Lord’s, England were 131/5 and yet they were let off the hook by India and their last 2 wickets added 265 runs to bat India out of the contest. India needs to have a clear plan on how to dismiss the lower order in the remaining 3 Tests.

India’s batsmen need to be more positive and score more quickly.

At Lord’s, England had as many as 5 fielders in the slip cordon and hardly any fielders saving singles as India’s batsmen went into a shell and could not rotate the strike, thereby allowing Joe Root to set attacking fields without any fear of leaking runs.

In conditions which favour bowling, it is vital to find a way to keep the scoreboard ticking and force the opposition captain to remove some fielders from catching positions. Otherwise, it is just a matter of time before a batsman edges a delivery into the slips or close catching positions. Cheteshwar Pujara in particular needs to find a way to avoid going into his shell.

India need to be at full strength and Kohli needs to be on the ball as captain.

After India lost the first Test, Nasser Hussain was critical of Kohli’s captaincy and said that he needed to take some responsibility for the loss. There is also a slight question mark regarding Kohli’s availability for the 3rd Test due to a back injury and even Ravichandran Ashwin took a couple of painful blows to his right hand when he was batting. It will be absolutely calamitous for India if either of these players is not available for selection.

Moreover, Kohli needs to make the right decisions on the field. In England’s 1st innings at Lord’s, Kuldeep Yadav was brought on to bowl before Ashwin even though the latter was India’s best bowler at Edgbaston.

India need a lot of things to go their way if they are to come from behind in the series.

 

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