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Wednesday, Oct 23, 2019

India vs England: India’s wobbly top order has Virat Kohli’s work cut out

Shikhar Dhawan’s pair in warm-up tie and Cheteshwar Pujara’s slow starts worrying factors ahead of first Test against England at Edgbaston.

cricket Updated: Jul 28, 2018 20:15 IST
N Ananthanaraynan
N Ananthanaraynan
Hindustan Times, Chelmsford
Shikhar Dhawan bagged a pair in India’s warm-up match against Essex at Chelmsford.
Shikhar Dhawan bagged a pair in India’s warm-up match against Essex at Chelmsford.(AP)

At the best of times, India would have had their task cut out in an England Test series but a lone warm-up reduced by a day has left the visitors with top-order batting concerns heading into the first Test starting at Edgbaston on Wednesday.

As India arrived in the UK in June, the sole focus in the buildup was on skipper Virat Kohli reversing his poor run of the 2014 Test series when he averaged less than 14 across five Tests. England spearhead James Anderson removed him five times and renewing that battle is expected to be a high point of the series.

A month on, the worry for Kohli should be on another count – whether the top-order batsmen will provide the platform for India’s best stroke-player to impose himself on the England bowling attack in a summer that promises to provide India the best batting opportunities.

The drawn three-day practice game against Essex raised serious concerns. Opener Shikhar Dhawan bagged a pair, falling first ball in the first innings and third delivery in the second. In the first innings, pacer Matt Cole had him caught behind in the first over when the green wicket, sought by the India management, was fresh and seaming.

ALSO READ | India vs Essex: Team India Report Card - How Virat Kohli & Co fared in the warm-up match

But Dhawan, not the most technically sound among India’s batsmen, was clueless when Matthew Quinn, a New Zealand-born pacer, sowed doubts with a swinging delivery first and cleaned him up with the next. This on a track that had flattened out and where India’s pace bowlers — not used to hitting the deck — could not bowl out an Essex team without big names in 94 overs.

Dhawan’s record in England, Australia and South Africa is poor. He has one fifty in 18 innings, an 81 in Brisbane on the 2014-15 tour. He exonerated himself in New Zealand on the 2014 tour, scoring 115 and 98 in the two Tests. Dhawan’s scores on the 2014 England tour can’t inspire confidence – 12, 29 (Trent Bridge), 7,31 (Lord’s) and 6,37 (Southampton).

It must be worrying as Murali Vijay, who ground out a half-century against Essex and hit a century against Afghanistan like Dhawan, still hasn’t played much cricket. He missed the domestic season and didn’t get a game for CSK in IPL. However, KL Rahul made a strong case for himself in both innings, scoring 58 and 36 not out with assurance. His shot selection and timing will encourage the team management to get him to open, his favourite slot. It is not that the No 3 spot looks secure.

ALSO READ | India vs England: Top 5 Test performances by Indian batsmen in England

Cheteshwar Pujara’s patience is a virtue, especially playing away from home, but he has struggled. In the Johannesburg Test early this year, he faced 50 balls without a run. With Yorkshire, conditions were tougher but he averaged 14.33 from 12 innings. He made 172 runs with a highest of 41.

The revealing number is 98 of those runs came in boundaries during a period when rotating the strike is vital to ensure bowlers don’t have a grip on one batsman. Against Essex, Coles got Pujara for one run and his attempt to score faster ended at 23 with a tame flick to midwicket on a flat pitch.

It rained on Friday night and Saturday morning and more showers are forecast for Birmingham in the weekend. While it would ease the suffering due to a harsh summer, it will also lift the spirit of England’s pacers and raise India’s batting challenge a notch higher. India reach Birmingham on Saturday evening. They have three sessions to sort things out as it is crucial to start strongly in a five-Test series.

First Published: Jul 28, 2018 20:11 IST

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