Vizag Test: Dry turner awaits India, England

At the breezy coastal city of Visakhapatnam, Alastair Cook and his men could face the sub-continental conundrum in the second Test. Can England find the answers?

The spin team of Ravichandran Ashwin and Amit Mishra is likely to be persisted with in Visakhapatnam.   -  K. R. Deepak

In the last international contest at this venue, only last month, New Zealand was > shot out for 79 in a lop-sided One-Day International (ODI). And the ball spun.

The second Test, beginning at the Y. S. Rajesekhara Reddy Stadium on Thursday, could witness a match where the close-in cordon surrounds the bat, the ball grips and turns and vociferous appeals rent the air. The surface in > Rajkot was, at best, a slow turner, and England dictated the course of the Test before running short of time and overs.

> READ: Free entry on day one of Vizag Test

At this breezy coastal city, Alastair Cook and his men could face the sub-continental conundrum. Can England find the answers?

> Read: Skipper Kohli picks Rahul as India's first-choice opener

The toss will be crucial. Chasing a target in excess of 175 in the fourth innings could be hazardous on this brown surface that seems to need water. Opener K. L. Rahul will return to the XI for India. As India’s captain Virat Kohli said, Rahul and the in-form Murali Vijay form the country’s No. 1 Test pair.

For England, pace ace James Anderson could be back if all-rounder Chris Woakes’ knee continues to give trouble. Cook faces a dilemma – whether to risk the injury-returned Anderson here or keep him fresh for what could be far more helpful conditions in Mohali.

Capable opposition

India, however, needs to be careful. The English spin trio of leg-spinner Adil Rashid, off-spinner Moeen Ali and left-armer Zafar Ansari made inroads in the second innings in Rajkot and might relish the track here.

> Read: Confident Cook ready for India spin test

And the Indian batting has not exactly covered itself with glory on ‘turning’ surfaces in recent times. This Indian line-up is prone to collapses and has often depended on late resistance from Ravichandran Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha.

A sound start is important and this is precisely why Vijay and Rahul have such critical roles. Much hinges on Cheteshwar Pujara’s innings building skills and Kohli’s aggression in the middle-order. While defensive skills are vital on surfaces encouraging spin, shots too, judiciously, need to be played to keep the scoreboard ticking. Finding the right balance is never easy.

Ashwin will be India’s trump card. He can be hard to counter on pitches favouring spin, since he harnesses the angles so cleverly to create an illusion in the minds of the batsmen before nailing them. The off-spinner has variety and is intelligent.

The trick is to read him from the hand and not play him off the surface. Once the batsman picks Ashwin’s length, he is in a much better position to counter the offie.

Ashwin’s battle against the left-handed Cook could be captivating. Cook plays the ball late, uses the crease, and is at home in these conditions. Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja should be a threat to the right-handers and his duel versus the solid and technically well equipped Joe Root might be engaging.

Leg-spinner Amit Mishra is under some pressure to retain his spot but might just hold on to his place. In his last ODI outing here, Mishra scalped five for very little against New Zealand.

Possible debut

India might consider including an additional batsman — Karun Nair — or a pace-bowling all-rounder — Hardik Pandya — instead of a specialist paceman if the think tank is convinced about the nature of the surface.

England, however, will not be short of confidence after its performance in Rajkot. The side bats deep and has stroke-makers such as Moeen, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes, who can take the game away from the opposition. And Haseeb Hameed is a young light-footed batsman at the top of the order.

India will have to snaffle up catches close to the wicket; this did not happen in Rajkot.