Surprisingly, to almost everyone, England managed to avoid defeat in the 1st Test against India, in Rajkot.
Not only did they not lose, but England played the much better cricket over the 5 days. Having set a huge total of 537 in the first innings, Cook’s men were in the driving seat throughout the match. Unfortunately, 49 overs proved not enough to bowl India all out on the final day as the hosts finished 132-6, thanks largely to skipper Virat Kohli with an unbeaten 49*.
However, the performance, as a whole, was a far cry from their humbling against Bangladesh only two weeks ago.
But what has changed in such a short space of time that has lead to such a rapid improvement- and meaning no disrespect to Bangladesh- against significantly better opposition?
I take a look at the 5 biggest talking points from the 5 Test series opener.
ENGLAND’S SPINNERS CAN COMPETE IN INDIA
Credit where credit is due. The ECB brought in a proper spin bowling consultant, in the form of Saqlain Mushtaq, and it’s worked wonders already. After that awful last test in Bangladesh, there were a lot of questions being asked about England’s spin department, and rightfully so. Having said that, England’s spin trio have bounced back brilliantly in India.
Adil Rashid’s success in particular, was pleasing for England fans. The leg spinner, who offers so much to the side in white ball cricket, hadn’t really made his mark in the Test arena until now. He picked up combined match figures of 7-178, and was the best on show without a doubt. One can only hope he continues in this vein of form, as he could be a real asset for England.
Zafar Ansari was also much improved, and seems to have found some consistency in only his second Test. He’s a vital part of this England set-up, and Cook seems to have placed his faith in him early on, often throwing him the ball before Moeen or Rashid.
HASEEB HAMEED IS THE REAL DEAL
It’s no secret that finding a suitable opening partner for Alastair Cook has been a priority for England for sometime. That process, though, has been a monumental struggle. When Andrew Strauss hung up his boots in 2012, I don’t think anyone thought filling one spot would be such a difficult task, but England have used no less than 10 opening partners alongside Cook in an attempt to find the right balance at the top of the order. Whilst some have promised great things, it would be fair to say that, ultimately, none of them succeeded.
However, England might have just found the answer, in the form of Lancashire’s 19-year-old Haseeb Hameed. A promising and composed 31 in the first innings impressed a lot of people, but to follow that up with 82 in the second innings, in an opening partnership of 180 with Cook, was the icing on the cake.
Calmness personified, Hameed showed maturity seldom seen in someone so young, and more than justified his selection. But what is more impressive, is his belief in his own game plans. He never once looked phased by the whole situation, and continued to play the way he knows best.
His debut is right up there with the best in an England shirt, and he should be a regular in the side for many years to come.
ENGLAND’S TOP ORDER HAVE SET OFF LIKE A TRAIN
England couldn’t have asked for a better start with the bat, and the form of their batsmen so early on in the tour is an excellent sign going forward. With centuries for Alastair Cook, Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes, as well meaningful contributions from Jonny Bairstow and the aforementioned Hameed, England really couldn’t have dreamt about a better start.
Root’s knock was a masterclass in occupying the crease, and he’ll be delighted to have passed 100, especially given some of his dismissals in the recent past that have stopped him from converting 50’s into big scores.
Stokes continued to prove that he’s no longer a one-dimensional player, mixing his hard-hitting style with a touch of finesse when necessary, whilst Moeen’s ton cements his place up the order, proving to everyone that he’s more than capable.
Cook’s effort in the second innings was just as pleasing, showing that any doubts that may have been lingering about his captaincy following the series, are certainly not going to have an impact on his on the field performances.
INDIA ARE VERY, VERY BEATABLE
There had been a lot of talks surrounding the term “whitewash” in the build up to the series, but England will feel much more confident about their chances of causing an upset against the number 1 ranked side in the world after the Rajkot Test.
Virat Kohli rarely loses the toss in India, hence why his side almost always bat first. However, having had to bat second, England will be pleased to have spotted a few frailties in both India’s batting and bowling line-ups.
Like England, India bat very deep, but having taken 6 second innings wickets in 49 overs on the final day, the visitors will feel they’ve found a weakness. Up front, Gautum Gambhir looks extremely shaky, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see KL Rahul replace him in Vizag to open up with Murali Vijay. In addition, the dangerous Ajinkya Rahane also struggled, scoring just 14 runs in the match.
Granted, the pitch didn’t spin as much as anyone expected, but Ashwin and Jadeja were not as much of a threat as first feared. What’s more, the hosts’ third spinner, Amit Mishra, really struggled for any kind of rhythm, so a shake up in that department is not out of the question.
CHANGES FOR THE NEXT GAME?
In an ideal world, the team that just played so well would stay the seam for the second Test in Vizag. But, with James Anderson back from injury and in contention to play, I don’t see how you can leave out England’s most skillful, and most successful bowler ever.
If Anderson is fit, you’d imagine it will be an extremely unlucky Chris Woakes who misses out to accommodate the Lancashire seamer. Although that unquestionably weakens England’s lower order batting, they should have enough about them with the good form already shown in the first Test. They also know they’ve had the upper hand in the last few series, and that confidence boost cannot be underestimated.
The wicket in Vizag should be an absolute ‘bunsen burner’ in comparison to Rajkot, but England should still be confident. As long as they don’t panic, or try to change too much, they’ll cope just fine against a slightly fragile India side.
Follow me on Twitter and Instagram for awful banter, opinions, and terrible pictures @DannySenior