INDIA V ENGLAND | PAYTM TEST SERIES | 3RD TEST - SARDAR PATEL STADIUM | MOTERA, AHMEDABAD | GUJARAT
India have lost the crucial toss in the 3rd Test, their second pink-ball match at home, but turned it into a huge advantage when Ishant Sharma, playing his 100th Test and the other Sharma, Rohit combined to send back England opening bat Dom Sibley.
Local boy Axar Patel, intelligently brought into the attack by captain Virat Kohli in the 7th over, struck with his opening delivery, removing England's reliable Jonny Bairstow.
Ravichandran Ashwin increased the pain for England when he sent back their skipper Joe Root, leaving the visitors on 74 for 3.
"We are gonna bat first. Hopefully, we will get a big score like the first Test. Hoping the wicket will dry out as the game goes along. It is certainly harder and seems to swing more compared to the red ball. We are very excited to be here 1-1 and are looking to do well," CricBuzz quoted England captain Joe Root saying.
Team India skipper Virat Kohli sounded optimistic despite revealing few concerns. "We would have batted first as well. We would look to get into the game early on. The practice wickets have been quite spicy. Something that we have enjoyed as a team. It is such an exciting atmosphere here at the largest cricket stadium. I am a bit worried about the lights. We have played in a similar stadium in Dubai. You need to adapt pretty quickly," Kohli said.
"Bumrah comes in for Siraj and Washington Sundar comes in for Kuldeep Yadav. We wanted to have a spinning option and Washi provides a lot with the bat as well. And having cushion with the bat helps especially in this situation when we bat second as the game could be evened out after the first innings," Kohli added.
England though have opted for an additional seam bowler. They have Zak Crawley, Jonny Bairstow, Jofra Archer, Jimmy Anderson coming into the side.
Both teams were greeted and wished well by the Honourable President of India, Ramnath Kovind and Home Minister Amit Shah.
It was good to see Root and his men do the "Namaste" greeting.
A couple of days ago Cheteshwar Pujara, in his interview confirmed that Team India are thinking seriously about qualifying for the World Test Championship final against New Zealand in June in England.
His skipper Virat Kohli says "one day at a time is that's what we've followed for years."
Kohli believes that each of his teammates is geared up to "win both Tests. What it [the wins] does afterwards is a conversation for later."
This gentle mis-match in thought between the captain and a senior team member can be ignored as an individual's personal thought that he is entitled to.
However, as a collective unit, Team India has FIVE top concerns or uncertainties going into the 3rd Test at the newly-refurbished world's largest stadium in Motera, Ahmedabad.
1. The Pink Ball by SG: Rohit Sharma, India's Hitman on whose 161-run knock the team progressed on to winning the second Test and leveling this 4-Test series 1-all, said in an interview that the pitch for the third Test would be similar to the second Test and will turn.
Rohit said he wasn't assured how the pink ball will play at different stages of the game, especially the now famous "twilight period" that according to him is at about 5pm, when the sun is setting and the floodlights are turned on for this day-night experiment.
Kohli seemed more certain. "The pink ball does tend to swing a lot more than the normal red ball that we play with. We experienced it in the one match we played against Bangladesh in 2019," he said.
"It's much more challenging to play with the pink ball regardless of what pitch you are playing on, especially in the evening, when as a batting team you are starting your innings under lights, then that one, one and half hour is very challenging," Kohli said.
Representative of the manufacturer of the pink ball used in India, Sanspareil Greenlands (SG), compared to the Kookaburra in Australia and Dukes in England, had a surprising request. "Turning track is fine, but for the pink ball to last 80 overs and retain its color requires some amount of grass on the wicket," the Times of India quoted Paras Anand, Marketing Director at SG saying.
"We've seen that world over, curators tend to leave 6-7mm grass on the pitch for day/night Tests to enable the pink ball to retain its shine," Anand added.
With several uncertainties Team India and Virat Kohli will have to be on guard all the time during this Test to watch how this ball behaves.
2. The Pitch from 11 options: The pitch prepared for this 3rd Test is of red soil compared to the others that have black soil.
Team India, despite being sure that the curator will shave off all the thick grass on the pitch by match day, are unsure how this pitch will play out as the math progresses.
The curator has assured that the pitch won't deteriorate as feared by few experts and critics after watching England lose the second Test on a turning Chennai pitch.
3. The Twilight period: The twilight period, that's the cusp between day and onset of night is being discussed, analyzed closely by both teams.
"Last time we experienced that the first session is probably the nicest to bat when the sun's out and the ball doesn't do as much, but when it starts to get dark, specially during the twilight period, it gets very tricky, the light changes and it is difficult to sight the ball, and under lights is like playing the first session in the morning in a normal Test match," Kohli said.
4. Weather changes suddenly: India's man in batting form, Rohit Sharma is concerned about the sudden change in weather during the day, again as this day-night match progresses daily from day to night.
Although these professional cricket players are accustomed to playing day-night matches, they have been one day internationals.
Playing five days at a stretch and withstanding the changing patterns of weather while you are on the field can be daunting for cricketers and their health.
They also have to stay focused if, as Rohit is concerned about, they get their turn to bat after spending the day part on the ground fielding.
It's a bit of a hot-cold situation that your body needs to get adjusted to. You can't even wear a sweater in Indian conditions.
5. The dew factor: According to Pujara, the , as a collective unit, Team India there'll be considerable dew during the final sessions of play.
If the ball soaks up dew, it is likely to lose shape or become difficult to grip.
Luckily, India have spinners Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar and Washington Sundar who are tall and have large fingers on their hands to grip the ball well.
Despite this, there's concern on the bowler's ability to maintain a good line and length to keep the opposition subdued.
"There has been a trend of collapses in pink-ball Test matches. One thing that stands out is those vital first 20 balls, making sure you get used to tracking the ball, get used to the conditions and being very aware of how things can change throughout the day," Root said on the eve of this Test.
"It's not necessarily just that one moment under lights or that twilight period. Sometimes it's been right at the start of the game in the morning session, or late on day four, that these strange passages of play have happened. When you get that opportunity, and you're on the right side of it in the field, you have to take every opportunity and really make that count in your favor," he added.
His team lost two wickets during this first session Root was referring to.