Their fifth loss in home Tests since 2010 came as a reality check soon for a side that achieved the much-acclaimed triumph in Australia less than a month ago, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Indian team, writes Rohit Sankar.
A home loss is so rare for India in Tests that you’d think eking out positives is scraping the bottom of the barrel. However, there were bright spots for the home team even as the visitors taking a 1-0 lead in the series, more by virtue of their own qualities than as a result of some clumsy slip-up from the usually impeccable hosts. How good England were does not drown that India are likely to be far from bogged down by this loss. As Virat Kohli stated in the post-match, “you could say they [England] are well prepared but to say they’re better prepared than us in our own conditions is not an accurate assessment.”
What is indeed accurate, though, is that India had a fair few positives to take away, some of which could hold larger meaning in the context of the series.
Ishant Sharma’s seamless return
Mohammed Siraj or Ishant Sharma as the second quick bowler was a raging debate ahead of the first Test with the former’s terrific Australian summer slimming the possibility of him sitting out of the first home Test of an important series. But Ishant is India’s timeless warrior, whose career rose through the highs of conquering Ricky Ponting and pulled through despite a 30-run-over mauling from James Faulkner. When he was given a go ahead of Siraj, few eyebrows were raised, for Ishant’s updated 2.0 version had been reliably good. In Chennai, he showed just why.
After his first spell, his figures read 5-1-8-0. After his second, 8-2-11-0. The last over of that spell saw him produce an edge off Root that died in front of the cordon, a slowish leg-cutter that had the England skipper in two minds and a pacy full-length ball tailing in dangerously. Ishant took two in two balls late into the innings and another in the next innings, but his accuracy, street-smart bowling for the conditions and reverse swing were unmistakable takeaways from the Test.
Shubman Gill is more than ready
“I don’t think anyone [from the Indian team] batted better than Shubman [Gill].” A half-smiling, half-irked Kohli retorted to one question from a journo in the post-match press conference. Gill made 29 in the first innings and 50 in the second. In the first, a well-disguised leg-cutter from Jofra Archer stopped on him, signalled his end, but only after he made 29 runs that felt like buttercream being spread over cake.
THIRD fifty for Shubman Gill in just four Tests.
— Wisden India (@WisdenIndia) February 9, 2021
In the second, he was bowled by a peach from James Anderson that could have trumped even the most in-form batsmen.
Gill is just 21, and Kohli knows the importance of having faith in the youngster. “I got bowled too,” he snapped when questioned about Gill’s manner of dismissal. The opener was in the side ahead of a batsman with scores of 215, 108 and 243 in three of his last six home innings. Yet, no questions were raised before the match, and hardly any after the game. Gill is just that good. And in Chennai, like in Australia, he showed he is more than ready.
Ashwin at home, second to none
Among spinners with more than 100 Test wickets at home this century, only Muttiah Muralitharan has a better strike-rate than Ravichandran Ashwin. Both fabulous off-spinners, Ashwin takes the icing when it comes to performing in wins, with 26 of his 28 five-wicket hauls in Test matches resulting in victories. In Chennai in the first Test against England, Ashwin took a five-wicket haul in a losing cause for just the second time in his career, the last one coming far back in 2015 in Galle.
Ashwin loves Chennai. It is his home town. It’s also a venue where he started with 12 wickets in a Test in 2013 against Australia, and then picked just four in his next 124 overs. Off the first ball of the second innings in Chennai, though, Ashwin made us forget that dreadful streak. Sharp turn and bounce combined as he found the edge of Rory Burns’ bat to reduce England to 0-1. He ended the innings with six wickets, three of those of tailenders, but none who were looking to smash him out of the park. Ashwin was impressive, as he is always at home, and it is unlikely from what we saw in the second innings that England can go another Test without enduring his wrath.
Rishabh Pant hits his straps right away
In his second over in the Test, Rishabh Pant dropped a catch down leg-side, which proved to be a sign of things to come from behind the stumps. In front of it, though, he more than made up for it, decimating England by waltzing down the track against spinners, and presenting an assured yet positive approach against quality fast bowling. His 88-ball 91 and the manner in which those runs came make Pant’s presence in the XI a no-brainer despite his ordinary outing as wicketkeeper.
Like it or not, England are going to see a lot of Pant this series unless an injury intervenes, and it is very unlikely that they’ll like having him at the crease, irrespective of the situation India are in. Counter-attacking under pressure and setting up declaration totals both fall right up Pant’s alley and from what he showed in Chennai, he’ll be a thorn in the flesh for the visitors this series.
Kohli is back, even if it doesn’t quite seem like it
First, there was that high elbow position, textbook-style as he unleashed a backfoot punch through covers. Then, there was the confident walk across the stumps, complete with outside-off-stump pushes. The century count hasn’t increased, but Kohli is back.
Two years ago, you couldn’t spot a game where Kohli looked out of sorts. In the last two years, he’s been a bit off his best. His last international hundred came in November 2019. Even after a near-flawless innings on a day five Chennai wicket, that record is unmoved. But, there’s no doubting Virat Kohli is well and truly on the right track after his short break.
The stride moving forward, the trademark nonchalance when flicking off his pads, the smirk when facing uncomfortable questions in pressers…you’d be naïve to assume Kohli’s slump will extend just because he couldn’t get to the three-figure mark. He went out of his way to show he is well into his zone with a polished 72 in the second innings. If England didn’t see it, they are likely to witness more of those this series.