After being thumped comprehensively in the first Test, India returned to familiar ways on home soil with an equally commanding response, notching up their fifth-biggest Test win in terms of runs.
With two more Tests to go, India’s victory has thrown the four-match contest open, and leaves the team with plenty to savour and ponder over the next eight days.
Ever-improving Pant’s virtually undroppable
If there were any prevailing doubts over Pant’s readiness as a wicketkeeper for Test cricket, they were diffused with his stellar showing behind the stumps in the second game. After making a meal of a relatively straightforward stumping in the first Test, he copped significant criticism, mostly directed towards his perceived difficulty in keeping up to spinners on Indian tracks.
The 21-year-old Pant, whose batting alone could secure him a place in the XI, responded with a much-improved showing with the gloves, with the pinnacle a one-handed blinder to grab Ollie Pope in the first innings. In the second innings, he was in his element again, effecting a sharp, athletic stumping to dismiss Dan Lawrence. Even his staunchest critics would find it hard to question his place after the all-round show.
India’s spin reserves run deep
When Shahbaz Nadeem’s sudden call-up didn’t go to plan, the Indian team once again felt the pinch of a Ravindra Jadeja-less XI, and the gap the left-arm spinner’s absence had left in the team’s balance. For the second Test, in came Kuldeep Yadav, whose last Test appearance dated back to January 2019, and Axar Patel, who was playing his debut Test after a two-year hiatus from international cricket.
— Wisden India (@WisdenIndia) February 15, 2021
Axar almost instantly created an impact, using the dusty pitch to his advantage by consistently drilling the ball on the same spot and gathering sharp turn. Kuldeep, though not as prolific, played a handy supporting role to R Ashwin, making it a new-look spin attack that, in only their first appearance together, claimed 17 of the 20 wickets to fall.
Next up is a day/night Test, where seamers are expected to play a central role with the pink ball. Who sits out? It’s a happy headache to have.
Ashwin, the all-rounder, makes a telling reappearance
17.07, 20.40, 12.00, 6.60: R Ashwin’s batting averages in the last four calendar years did little to justify the ‘all-rounder’ tag he had earned over the first half of his career. As his batting numbers dwindled, the strain on India’s lower-order worsened, but the recent absence of Jadeja seems to have given Ashwin more freedom to shoulder the additional load.
Ashwin's runs are useful, but the options his batting renaissance gives India for balancing their playing XI for the pink-ball Test could be even more crucial, writes @imRohit_SN #INDvENG https://t.co/XMbCeAnGXp
— Wisden India (@WisdenIndia) February 15, 2021
With two significant scores in the last five innings, one of them being his fifth Test century, Ashwin’s return to form has helped bridge the gap in the middle order, and will afford the side the option of playing an extra seamer in the pink-ball game.
Rohit, Rahane return to their usual ways
Two of India’s biggest concerns ahead of the second Test revolved around the feeble batting contributions of Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, two matchwinners on their day whose string of starts weren’t translating into a significant score. With backs to the wall after the opening defeat, India required a solid first-innings total, and a Rohit Sharma classic helped lay the groundwork for that.
Later, a typically poised knock Rahane helped carry them to a formidable total, breaking his streak of seven fifty-less scores. With the two batsmen back to their usual ways, the burden on the rest of the batsmen has definitely eased going into the final two Tests.
Pressure on Kohli reduces, but on-field demeanour remains in focus
Kohli would surely have been proud of an injury-depleted India’s historic series win in Australia, but his return to leadership proved to be more challenging than one would have imagined. A well-prepared England side dismantled them with surgical precision in the first Test, and the side’s bouncebackability was put under an immediate test.
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) February 15, 2021
While the side responded in comprehensive fashion, Kohli the captain’s typically abrasive on-field persona grabbed headlines again, especially the rather heated exchange with an on-field umpire after a DRS call, which earned him criticism from several experts, including Michael Vaughan and Nasser Hussain. If he finds himself on the wrong side of ICC’s Code of Conduct, he risks facing suspension in the future. It remains to be seen if the remainder of the series features a more measured version of Kohli, or the India captain sticks to his guns.