Batsmen-bowlers strike all round to keep India in hunt

Not many would have given India a chance of fighting their way back into the five-Test series against England after losing the first two Tests and crucially not performing like the world No.1 side they are.

If the 31-run loss in the first Test at Edgbaston, Birmingham, exposed their batting frailties in negotiating the seaming ball, in the second at Lords they were thoroughly outplayed in all the departments of the game.

India had their backs to the wall going into the third Test at Nottingham. The experts had written them off as the conditions at Trent Bridge were supposed to suit the English pace men, more so for James Anderson and local boy Stuart Broad, who between them have close to a thousand Test wickets.

As India captain Virat Kohli said there were no negative vibes in the changing room even after going 0-2 down or the frustrating margins of defeat.

The situation was similar to the one they were in a few months ago in South Africa. The only difference was then they were out to salvage their pride after losing two in the three-Test series, again a close low-scoring first Test, whereas at Nottingham they were playing for bigger stakes, to keep the series alive.

What a turn around it has been, turning everything upside down. England captain Joe Root straightaway asked India to bat, sending out a message that the series was as good as over.

The Indian batsmens reworked technique was evident as the much reviled openers, back-in-favour Shikhar Dhawan and Lokesh Rahul, played the ball closer to the body, yet without affecting their stroke-making ability. They did not poke at out-swingers or play across. And they also left the deliveries pitched even a shade outside the off-stump.

While Dhawan and Rahul comforted the nerves in the dressing room with the best opening stand for quite some Tests, Anderson and Broad gave jitters to their side, unable to exploit the conditions as expected by their captain.

Indian batting sought to make a statement: It does not hinge on Kohlis class. Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane seem to have regained their temperament to reinforce their technique. Things have started to fall in place and the Indians have crossed the 300-run mark for the first time in six innings in this series, in fact, in both the innings.

The credit for this Indian renaissance must go to Kohli, who scored 200 runs, with a hundred in the second innings after missing it by three runs in the first. He scored 200 runs in the first Test also, with a big century in the first innings.

The Indian batsmen were also motivated by their fast bowlers. Coach Ravi Shastri is not off the mark, India indeed have the most potent combination of fast bowlers, a couple of them sitting out for reasons for competition and injury.

Many thought that Shastri is assembling a coterie of support staff who worked with him during his stint as team director when he insisted on getting Bharat Arun back as bowling coach. People only know that Arun played both his Tests against Sri Lanka, sharing the new ball with Kapil Dev in a team of which Shastri was a part of.

Not many may know that Arun had figures of three for 76 runs in 27 overs in his debut Test at Kanpur 32 years ago, Aravinda de Silva and Roy Dias among his victims. Arun has worked his way up at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) as its bowling coach before joining the India support staff.

Not many teams in the world can today boast of fast bowlers going beyond 135 km speed with Umesh Yadav touching the 150 km mark often, though he has no place in the playing XI now.

Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Hardik Pandya have all clocked upwards of 135 km, with the first named clocking 138 in the series, whereas Englishmen Broad, Ben Stokes, Anderson and Chris Oakes were struggling to go beyond the 133-km-mark.

Whatever former great Michael Holding might say about Bumrahs utility with the new ball or Pandyas all-round prowess, the two have moved the ball disconcertingly, both in the air and off the pitch, at Trent Bridge when the English fast bowlers could not find a proper line or length for the ball to do something, even on the fresh opening day wicket.

Pandya stunned all by taking five wickets in the first innings and Bumrah had as many in the second. The slip-catching was outstanding to add zip to the attack.

From the present lot, Ishant Sharma is the seniormost with 249 wickets, followed by Shami 118 followed by Pandya with 16 wickets in 10 Tests and Bumrah has a highly impressive 21 wickets from his four Tests.

What surprised everyone is that the same set of bowlers plus Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who is sidelined with back injury, had taken 50 of the 60 wickets to fall in South Africa. They are back after Lords slump and are posing serious questions for England.

For India, every Test after Lords has become critical, any loss means the series is over.

Yet, it is not over till it is over.

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