Buoyant England should expect a tougher India next time

Second Test will be harder – but British have seen their hosts are far from unbeatable

India’s captain, Virat Kohli, on the right, shakes hands with his English counterpart, Alastair Cook, after the end of the last day’s play at Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Rajkot. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

in Rajkot

Lengthening shadows, a cage of catchers around the batsman, the ball fizzing off the five-day-old strip of baked earth and the tantalising promise that a wicket might be just around the corner. These are common scenes in the fourth innings of a Test in India, but for the first time in a good while it was the hosts, not the tourists, with their backsides twitching like a rabbit’s nose. Rewind to the start of this series and there was little optimism to be found regarding the prospects of Alastair Cook’s men against the world’s number one side in their own backyard, where 12 of the previous 13 Tests had been won with little resistance from the visitors.

The first Test may have ended up a draw on Sunday, but of the two sides England will surely be the more buoyant ahead of hostilities resuming in Visakhapatnam on Thursday. Virat Kohli, who remained unbeaten on 49 at the end as England's spinners tried to swarm and the biggest crowd of the Test cheered every run as if their heroes were still going for it, is a feisty captain from whom concessions are rare. He had little appetite to betray any earlier held concerns after the handshakes in the middle, but will not have enjoyed relying on his lower-order all-rounders to get there. Chasing the target of 310 was never on and India did defuse the tension well before the end, with Ravi Jadeja at No8 thumping six fours during his 30 minutes or so at the crease, as part of a tactic Kohli later claimed was intended to take time out of the game.

It was all part of a training exercise too, apparently, for a side that had previously fielded first just once at home since Kohli succeeded MS Dhoni two years ago. “Some people were sceptical about our side knowing how to draw games,” said the captain. “We either won games or we lost games. I spoke with Jadeja out there that it was an opportunity for both of us to improve on another aspect of the game. Maybe in Test cricket in the future, we will have this again. It was a challenging situation but one that we countered really well, I thought.”


Surface grass

If Kohli’s appraisal of the Rajkot pitch was anything to go by, it might be the last draw we see in the series given the surprise he expressed at the amount of grass on the surface, adding, somewhat tersely, that “it should not have been the case”. The message was clear: greater turn is coming on this trip. Any suggestions that England’s spinners outperformed his own were batted away to the fence, however. “It’s not like they took five-fers and totally turned around the game. They should have won the game if they outperformed our spinners,” Kohli fired back.

While taking his point, the statistics do show that Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali and Zafar Ansari claimed 13 wickets at 33 runs apiece, striking every 60 balls, compared to nine at 58 every 100 from his triumvirate of twirlers. The last time that happened was in Mumbai during England's victory in 2012-13 and while Kolhi's main pairing, Jadeja and Ravi Ashwin, were relatively quiet – the latter's 230 runs shipped were the most he has leaked at home – of concern for Kolhi will be seeing the previously fragile Rashid look the greater threat than his opposing leg-spinner in Amit Mishra. Another issue to chew over is the ease by which Gautam Gambhir was removed in both innings in a Test where the bulk of the top-order batsmen cashed in at some stage, with his lame fence to second slip sixth ball the latest example of why

England's seamers fancy their chances against a 35-year-old who only returned to the side this season by virtue of injuries to fellow openers KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan. These are just small chinks in the armour of the hosts at the start of what is a long and gruelling campaign and England know only too well, both from their own ability to bounce back and win after rearguards in recent times, and the series defeat to Pakistan in the UAE last winter, when they finished the drawn first Test as the only side hunting a win, that momentum is little more than a construct for us onlookers. But given the pre-series talk of a possible 5-0 whitewash over here, Cook's tourists can draw plenty of heart from being the side with fewer bruises from the first of five rounds. - (Guardian service)