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04 February, 2021

#INDvENG: 10 Aspects Team India May Need To Consider Ahead Of First Test Match In Chennai



A lot has transpired since fortress Brisbane was breached. Most have moved on and are focusing on the new challenge. 

Few, such as Team India's batting coach Vikram Rathour, are revisiting that victory to glean the positives and implement at home against a resurgent England

However, if you consider returning captain Virat Kohli's statement on the eve of the Test saying "The focus will be on bowlers who can also bat," then Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar could be among the playing 11.

This pair has been hailed by coach Ravi Shastri as the duo who broke the back of Australia in Brisbane. 

It could be likely that both, Shastri and Kohli want these two to repeat that performance in Chennai when opportunity arrives and break England's back to begin the series with. 

Here are 10 aspects that Team India may have to factor in ahead of the Chennai Test: 

1. Kohli's frame of mind on return: Kohli is the only player from the big entourage that traveled to Australia in November 2020, who is returning to play on the back of that bitter 36 and subsequent defeat in Adelaide.

Knowing his supreme level of confidence, focus and professional approach to his game, you'd expect him to brush off that loss he had identified as "lack of intent".

He has two strong personal motivations to stamp his authority and score big. The primary motivation would be to hit a ton and dedicate it to his new-born daughter, Vamika. The other, secondary, would be to go past Ricky Ponting as the only Test captain to have scored 42 centuries.

Both ways, it would benefit India. 

2. Taking back captaincy from a blemish-less stand-in: Call it fate, divine benevolence or shrewd captaincy skills, Ajinkya Rahane has etched his name in cricket history as the only stand-in captain who has stood in for the same regular captain, once due to injury (Dharamshala) and the other owing to paternity leave (Australia), in two different series and come out unscathed. 

For Kohli, taking back captaincy from such a deputy is like picking up a powerlift beyond his weight category. He'll be hard pressed to lead India one way - to victory, or a match-saving draw. Period. 

3. Draw not an option for Young India: Rishabh Pant led the Young India brigade in Brisbane as he scored the winning runs and ensured Team India take the series 2-1. 

Other prominent members of this Young India that the entire cricket world continues to discuss about, Shubman Gill, Shardul Thakur, Washington Sundar and Mohammed Siraj have indicated with their performance that they don't entertain the idea of playing for a draw in a Test.

Those were the early 60s, 70s, 80s when their predecessors had few options but to play out an entire 4-5 Test series 0-0 or 1-0.

So, Kohli will have to lead this rejuvenated Young India with nothing but a Test win in mind going forward. 

4. Onus on Ishant, Bumrah to pick up the gauntlet: Both, Ishant who was India's preferred spearhead until he was sidelined by injury and Bumrah, who was compelled to sit out the Brisbane Test owing to an abdominal strain, will have to carry the baton passed on by rookies Siraj, Thakur and T Natarajan from the Brisbane Test victory.

These two will have to lead from the front and help India's attack take 20 England wickets in Chennai and start the series 1-0. 

Both pace bowlers know full well that they'll have to live up to the performance shown by the rookies, who are now made to sit out to make way for them.

5. Not allow the 36 to stalk your mind: Yes, they proved by their action that their lowest Test innings of 36 was only an aberration. 

However, an opposition pace attack that makes an initial inroad could make the 36 scenario play back in some players' minds. 

It would be vital for senior pros such as Rohit Sharma, Kohli, Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara to bat well and show their teammates that the Adelaide 36 would never ever re-visit the team's performance again, on any pitch, venue and situation. 

6. Preference to Kuldeep Yadav: He tagged along the entire tour down under in 2020-21 without playing.

And to think of it, his last Test was a five-for in Australia, at the SCG. Kuldeep hasn't played a Test for India for two years.

Would it be prudent to include him in the playing 11 straightaway? Bowling coach Bharat Arun has been supportive of the hard work that Yadav has been putting in.

However, the bowler himself has said in an interview to ESPN Cricinfo on February 3, 2021 that confidence comes automatically when you play regular cricket.

You feel for the bowler and understand he deserves a start. However, looking at all that's at stake, including the World Test Championship, will the Team India thinktank use emotion over logic?

7. Shastri's vow of winning on any pitch, venue or condition: A depleted and injured India lived every word that coach Shastri had spoken two years ago.

An elated Shastri had said after India whitewashed South Africa in Ranchi: "We want to take the pitch out of the equation. Bhaad me gaya pitch (To hell with pitches). We want to take 20 wickets regardless of the pitch. Be it Johannesburg or Mumbai or Delhi or Auckland or Melbourne, our work is to pick up 20 wickets. We need a team unit when it comes to bowling for picking up 20 wickets."

Shastri had said this in an interview with Star Sports.

So, now that a third-string India attack could take 20 wickets oversea, a first-rate attack should demolish any opposition on home ground. This Test starts on Friday.

8. Pressure to do an encore that the corporate world desires: The Brisbane win drew praise from India Inc and a couple from Corporate America.

Google head honcho from Tamil Nadu Sundar Pichai, Microsoft CEO from Andhra Pradesh Satya NadellaAnand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, Harsh Goenka, chairman of RPG, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, executive chairperson of Biocon, Rishad Premji, chairman of Wipro were few prominent names from the corporate world who expressed their joy at Team India's unexpected, unbelievable series victory in Australia.

Mahindra even tweeted that researchers need to study this victory, probably to bring out a lesson for the corporate world.

Publications, such as ESPN Cricinfo and The Conversation dug deeper and brought out research-based articles to prove the reason behind that victory. To read about them, See: Bumrah The Spinner, Lens On Langer And Spotlight On Pant, India Continues For Series Win In Aus.

Team India, now under Kohli will be compared during most steps they take, if not every, to that victory. These erudite corporate guys may not get on to doing that comparison, but a lot many ardent fans may.

9. Decision on playing Axar Patel: Will India play Axar Patel as former India star and Member of Parliament Gautam Gambhir has suggested?

England is likely to play three left handed batsmen in their side, a development not very conducive for a left arm spinner.

It'll be interesting to see if coach Shastri, an effective left spinner during his playing days, and Kohli would draft Axar in to provide variety to the India attack.

10. Joe's selfishly getting rooted to his crease: By his self admission, it has taken 99 Tests for England captain Joe Root to figure out that he needs to bat selfishly in a Test match.

By doing so in Sri Lanka, he realized he could amass huge personal scores that have resulted in victory for his team.

It's a win-win. Root is now eager to carry forward this selfish streak into every innings he plays on Indian soil, starting his career 100th Test in Chennai.

India's bowling coach Arun may have worked out a few chinks in Root's batting that any one among Bumrah, Ishant, Ashwin or any other two bowlers picked in the side will be tutored to exploit.

Lastly, these four Test matches will show if India under Kohli, rekindle those Character, Intent, Attitude (CIA) qualities they displayed so remarkably from Melbourne to Brisbane, under Rahane.