Under-fire England desperate for change
Sunday, July 27, Ageas Bowl
Start time 1100 (1000 GMT)
England are 1-0 down in a five-Test series, against opponents who have just won their first overseas Test in three years. There is a lot of cricket left to be played, clearly, but the cheer in the India camp and the gloom in England's are at levels disproportionate to the bare fact of the scoreline.
Lord's was a crushing win for India but it is still too early to say the momentum has swung their way. This team is still learning to win, still hoping at the start of every Test match that their bowlers are capable of taking 20 wickets. Until that inexplicable English meltdown on the fifth afternoon, it seemed quite possible that India might do a Johannesburg or a Wellington and let another advantageous position slip from their grasp.
That three batsmen were out hooking into a leg side packed with boundary riders had more to do with England's fragility than with India's tactics. Something will need to change within the home dressing room, and very soon, if England are to come back into the series. Alastair Cook will need to lead that change, whether by example - things might look very different if he makes a hundred on Sunday and puts on 150 with another member of his top three - or by dint of his captaincy. Right now, in a series billed as a meeting of two unadventurous captains, it is only MS Dhoni who has done anything to belie his reputation.
To anyone who has watched their recent overseas tours, it should not have been too much of a surprise that India outbatted England at Lord's, except perhaps for the fact that Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli didn't feature among the biggest gamechangers. That they also outbowled England, though, was a surprise. Something must be going wrong at a fundamental level if an attack that includes James Anderson and Stuart Broad is struggling to dismiss lower-order batsmen so often.
Whether it is due to weariness - Broad, suffering from knee tendinitis, has looked down on pace - or the sameness of their attack - Moeen Ali has taken more than twice the wickets Ravindra Jadeja has, without offering the same control - or simply the tactics - how many times do you bowl short to tailenders and fail to dismiss them before shelving the plan? - they can't go on as they have been for too much longer.
England seem a side set in their ways but are in dire need of change. India, particularly their bowlers, will need to show they can do what they did at Lord's on a consistent basis.
Players to watch
During the post-match presentation at Lord's, Alastair Cook said he was "trying my heart out to turn this around" after Lord's - "this" being no wins in England's last 10 Test matches, "this" also being a personal run of 27 innings without a century, during which time he has averaged 23.62 with the bat. Cook, you sense, has time to "turn this around" only as long as the series remains alive.
Each time he has batted in this series, Cheteshwar Pujara has looked set for a big score, before getting out against the run of play. Scores of 38, 55, 28 and 43 won't reflect how critical his contributions have been to India's success on this tour, particularly his three-hour dig on the first morning at Lord's, but India's No. 3 will want to inflict much more tangible damage on England.
With Matt Prior taking a break to regain fitness after battling multiple injuries, Jos Buttler will make his Test debut for England. It seems likely that Stuart Broad will play on despite fitness issues but Ben Stokes, who has been decent with the ball but hasn't scored a run in three innings, could make way for Chris Jordan. If Liam Plunkett is rested, Chris Woakes could come in.
England (probable) 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Sam Robson, 3 Gary Ballance, 4 Ian Bell, 5 Joe Root, 6 Moeen Ali, 7 Jos Buttler (wk), 8 Chris Jordan, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Liam Plunkett/Chris Woakes, 11 James Anderson.
Judging by the quantity and quality of the time he has spent batting in the nets in the lead-up, Rohit Sharma looks set to regain his place in India's middle-order as they go back to playing six specialist batsmen. Stuart Binny will make way if this is indeed the case.
India (probable) 1 M Vijay, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Rohit Sharma, 7 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Mohammed Shami.
Pitch and conditions
The Ageas Bowl has only hosted one Test match before this, against Sri Lanka three years ago. That match was drawn, but it probably wouldn't have been had the weather allowed more than 261 overs to be played over five days, with Wisden lavishing praise on the groundsman Nigel Gray for preparing "a greenish pitch combining the true bounce of Perth and the lateral movement of Nottingham".
There was little lateral movement in Nottingham when it hosted the first Test of this series, but it doesn't seem likely that the Ageas Bowl will throw up anything as out-of-character. The pitch is still reputed to be one of the fastest in the country, and there was a fair grass cover - though not nearly as much as at Lord's - on it in the lead-up. A spell of hot weather has raised concerns over its moisture retention, but in all it seems like the faster bowlers will have enough help to work with. There could be a spell of rain on Sunday, but clear skies are forecast for the other days.
Stats and trivia
- M Vijay has faced 794 balls in the series so far, and has already moved to second on the list of India openers in terms of balls faced in a series in England. With three Tests still to go, he is within sight of Sunil Gavaskar's record of 1199 balls faced in four Tests in 1979.
- Only five captains in England's history have led in more than 20 Tests with a worse win-loss record than Alastair Cook, who has won 9 and lost 8 of the 25 Tests he has captained in.
"The frustrating thing has been that we've been getting ourselves into situations, especially in the four Test matches, where we are ahead of the game by quite a long way and haven't been able to force that result. We must be doing a lot of things really well. But in the crucial sessions, when we need to stamp our authority to get that win, we haven't managed to take [that chance]. It's bubbling under but the longer it goes without a win it becomes harder and harder."
Alastair Cook, on England's inability to grab the match-turning moments
"I feel that in a five-match series, 1-0 lead is not big. What's crucial is to pick the right team and move forward. We are not thinking about any tagline this time, 1-0 up, level the series etc."
MS Dhoni doesn't want to get too far ahead of himself, with three Tests still to play
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo