Lord's Test: Pujara or Pandya? Extra spinner? Plenty to ponder for India

Should India continue to afford a long rope to the top order and back them to perform, or ring in change and accommodate Pujara? Should it go in with an extra spinner? If so, will it be Kuldeep or Jadeja?

Virat Kohli now has the monkey well and truly off his back about scoring runs in England. But the rest were found wanting and not up to the task.   -  AFP

The dust has finally settled on the riveting Test Match at Edgbaston. Instead of coming into the second Test at Lord’s on Thursday upbeat and confident, India will start the Test 0-1 behind with a bit of uncertainty and pondering how to get back into the series with the same hope and expectation with which it embarked on this tour. India dealt the cards with its selection and played the game based on that. It did not prove to be successful in this match.

Ravi Shastri made it clear that India will always play to win and in an aggressive manner. Sadly, the rhetoric did not match the reality. India did not deserve to win the game. Had England held on to its catches in the first innings it would have been an ignominious defeat in under three days.

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India did not bat well enough in both innings to win the Test. The bowlers bowled well and kept India in the game. Ishant Sharma’s spell was outstanding in the second innings.

Not an ideal preparation

The preparation could and ought to have been ideal. Nine days of free time to get ready for battle and India chose to play only one three-day game. The lessons learnt in South Africa seem to have been forgotten or even ignored.

It could have played two four-day matches and given its batsmen time in the middle in the games. No amount of time spent in practice nets can equate to time playing matches. That is a no-brainer. The top order looked out of sorts and woefully out of form. The shot selection and dismissals had all the hallmarks of a hangover from white ball cricket.

Pujara, perhaps the only specialist Test batsman in the squad, was left out for the first Test.   -  K.V.S. Giri

To compound its problems, it left out Pujara, perhaps the only specialist Test batsman in the squad. Poor Kohli had to be the chief cook and bottle washer in this star-studded batting line-up. The rest were found wanting and not up to the task.

Tail trouble

The malaise of the tail putting up resistance and taking the game away from India continues. Sam Curren’s plucky innings full of grit and audacity turned the game in favor of England. Indian bowlers just could not dislodge him and this all-too familiar saga continues to torment India time and again in Tests. India really needs to come up with a strategy to combat this.

READ: How an open stance got Cook back on track

Ben Stokes proved yet again that he is a champion under pressure. His hostile spell was full of purpose and determination. The view of his shirt, clinging with sweat, and his aggressive demeanor — that of a man who was out to win — was a treat to watch.

India may have missed a trick late on Day 3 when Pandya could have been sent ahead of Ashwin to play aggressively and whittle the chase down. Kohli was still there and between them they could have put India in a winning position. Ashwin could then have played a supporting role the next day if and when a wicket fell. It seemed too little too late as Pandya was left on his own in the end.

There has been enough written and spoken about Virat Kohli’s tremendous performance in this Test. He now has the monkey well and truly off his back about scoring runs in England. His innings were full of class, character and responsibility. Kohli has been a true leader and has led from the front. He exudes presence and confidence that is a joy to watch. He is maturing into a great cricketer.

Ashwin shows class

R. Ashwin’s bowling in the Edgbaston Test was wonderful to watch. He bowled like the world-class spinner he is.   -  AP

  Ashwin’s bowling in the Edgbaston Test was wonderful to watch. He bowled like the world-class spinner he is. The simple approach and uncomplicated thought process and attitude seemed to have a lot to do with this excellent performance. There were no cute side steps and hops and jumps in this Test; it was good, solid and hard stuff, concentrating on line and length with a real sense of purpose and plan. His dismissals of Cook were proof of how good a bowler Ashwin is.

Dinesh Kartik had a poor game. He is a quality player but nothing went right for him in this Test, neither with the gloves nor with the bat. It happens. Perhaps, it would boost his confidence if Shastri and Kohli sit with him to have a chat about his role in this team and show faith in him.

Plenty to ponder

There are a number of questions and options for India as it gears up for the Lord's Test. Does it continue to afford a long rope to the top order and back them to perform, or ring in change and accommodate Pujara? If Pujara is included then who should be dropped? India needs to ensure balance which allows it to be strong yet flexible. Should it go in with an extra spinner? If so, will it be Kuldeep or Jadeja? Has Pandya justified his inclusion and given India the right balance and combination in this team?

It is important not to have knee jerk reactions in the selection process and back your instincts in such situations. Too much chopping and changing can only be counter productive and would upset the balance of any team. Indian team management has gone through such situations before. At the end of the day, there were only 31 runs between victory and defeat.

Lord’s promises to be an exciting Test. India has a good track record there. With Stokes not playing, England needs to be wary of India. It has the ability and the will to bounce back.

(The writer is a former cricketer who played for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy)