India lost the opening Test by 227 runs but made a strong comeback and registered their biggest win vs England, in terms of runs, in Tests.
In pursuit of an improbable 482-run target, England could muster just 164 on a viciously turning Chennai track.
Former England spinner Monty Panesar and former India wicket-keeper batsman Ajay Ratra spoke to TimesofIndia.com and lauded India’s comeback win against the Three Lions.
“It’s been unbelievable. The toss was a crucial factor. England won the toss in the first Test, they won. India won the toss in the second Test, they won. Some people did question the pitch. But it’s the kind of wickets that India would produce. India probably played the conditions better than England,” Panesar told Timesofindia.com in an exclusive interview.
“It’s a great comeback win. We were confident India will have a cakewalk in the second Test. Because Virat Kohli knows how to bounce back and he did it in style. I would appreciate the England team as well. They have performed really well in the series so far. Toss played a crucial factor in the series so far. It was a great show by the Indian team,” Ratra, who played 6 Tests and 12 ODIs for India, told TimesofIndia.com.
THE R ASHWIN FACTOR
The stand out player for India in the second Test was local hero R Ashwin. His tremendous all-round show helped him walk away with the Man of the match award.
Ashwin scored a brilliant 106 off 148 balls, including 14 fours and a six, to put England on the backfoot. Apart from his superb batting display, the 34-year-old bagged eight wickets in the match. He is currently sitting on top of the highest wicket-takers tally in the series with 17 scalps in 2 Tests, including two five-fors under his belt.
Panesar feels what really helps Ashwin, who is now just 6 wickets away from 400 Test wickets, is his ability to think like both a batsman and a bowler.
“What helps Ashwin is that when he bowls, he is able to think like a batsman and when he’s batting, he’s probably thinking like a bowler. He knows his job well. He knows when he has to attack the stumps, when he has to play a sweep shot. He is a special batsman and a special bowler as well. If the conditions favour him, he tries to be aggressive. He has got all the qualities of being a number one all-rounder. He’s the best. He is in the same bracket as Murali, Shane, Kumble, Harbhajan,” Panesar, who has played 50 Tests, 26 ODIs, and 1 T20I for England between 2006 and 2013, said.
One of the key players missing for India is Ravindra Jadeja, a player who is seen as the designated all-rounder in the Test team. Ashwin’s performance with both bat and ball in Chennai though made sure Jadeja’s absence wasn’t felt.
“Ashwin is a leader of the spin department. Jadeja isn’t and in his absence, Ashwin took on the responsibility really well and performed. Ashwin is a package of a good all-rounder. Look at his batting, he was just amazing. He has scored a lot of runs in domestic cricket. Now, he is doing the same for India. Coming in at number 7 or 8 and scoring a century, that’s commendable. Ashwin’s best quality is that he knows how to adapt to conditions quickly. That’s what we call experience,” Panesar further said.
THE TOSS FACTOR AND VIRAT’S CAPTAINCY
During the post-match presentation, captain Kohli said the outcome of the toss (India won and batted first) didn’t matter much. On the other hand, England captain Joe Root had a different take, saying the ‘toss was an important one to win’.
Root also made it clear that had he won the toss, England would have batted first. The win also broke Kohli’s string of 4 consecutive Test losses. Panesar feels Kohli shouldn’t change his style of captaincy and should continue to bring controlled aggression to the table.
Virat Kohli and Joe Root. (PTI Photo)
“If England would have won the toss and opted to bat first, this would have been the end of Virat’s captaincy. I think BCCI would have said, look, we’ve lost five in a row, we are 2-0 down, we need to change the leadership. He (Virat) was probably lucky because he won the toss and the wicket was turning. But things went his way and now everyone’s gonna say, ‘oh, yeah, Virat is back’. Virat needs to be aggressive, he needs to be himself and he doesn’t have to be a relaxed person,” Panesar said.
Ratra, meanwhile, lauded Kohli’s captaincy. The 39 year old, who played under the leadership of Sourav Ganguly, went on to compare Kohli’s style of captaincy with that of Ganguly’s.
“Dada was so aggressive but he never used to express it. Virat is also aggressive but he expresses too much. Dada made the team and took care of it really well. He was an amazing leader. He showed India how to win, especially overseas. He injected the fighting spirit into the team. Virat is doing a brilliant job. His hunger for wins is something that is taking India forward. The Indian team is doing magnificently in all the three formats and the credit goes to captain Virat,” Ratra, who made his debut under Ganguly’s captaincy in 2022, said.
AXAR’S PATEL’S DREAM DEBUT
In Jadeja’s absence, left-arm spinner Axar Patel got the opportunity in the second Test and the 27-year-old from Gujarat didn’t disappoint his captain and the team. Axar, who was handed the Test debut cap by captain Kohli, took a five-wicket haul in England’s second innings after claiming two wickets in the first innings. Axar became only the sixth Indian bowler to take a five-wicket haul on Test debut.
As Kohli revealed after the match, Axar would have played the first Test as well, if not for a 11th hour knee niggle that kept him on the sidelines.
However, any comparison with Jadeja is extremely premature. And Panesar echoed that sentiment.
Axar Patel. (PTI Photo)
“Axar has done an amazing job. Five wickets and that too on debut is a really good performance. He did what Jadeja has been doing for India. Jadeja is a big part of the Indian team and is hard to replace. Axar has done well. This was his first match. Jadeja has played a lot of cricket. Is Axar really effective or he is just a good bowler on helpful pitches? For this, we need to sit back and watch Axar in the coming matches. That was a huge learning for him,” Panesar further told TimesofIndia.com.
According to Ratra, the Chennai pitch helped Axar a lot.
“He (Axar) had an impressive debut. He bowls quite fast. When you have a turning track and a spinner bowling quite fast, then he is more dangerous than other bowlers. because the ball is coming with speed and then turns as well. This track helped Axar a lot. Claiming five wickets on debut is a great achievement,” Ratra, who is also a manager with ONGC, further said.
INDIA’S NEXT ASSIGNMENT – ANOTHER PINK BALL TEST AT HOME
The series is locked at 1-1 and the third Test will be played in Ahmedabad from February 24. The third Test will be a day and night affair and will be played with a pink ball under floodlights.
This will be the second day-night Test in India and the third overall that the Indian team will be playing. India played their first ever pink-ball Test against Bangladesh in November 2019 at Eden Gardens. India crushed Bangladesh by an innings and 46 runs in that match.
India pacers Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, and Mohammed Shami shared 19 wickets among them in that match.
Subsequently they played the Adelaide day and night Test against Australia, which they lost by 8 wickets.
As India are set to host England in Ahmedabad, their second day-night Test at home, Ratra echoed the general consensus that Kohli should go in with three pacers.
“India should go for major changes. The third Test will be a different game altogether. It will be a day-night Test and will be played with the pink ball. There will be a lot of swing. I am sure Virat will have plans ready. He is a captain who has his plans ready in advance. I am sure he will go with three pacers. When India hosted their first-ever pink-ball Test in Bangladesh, there was a lot of swing. Virat should go with Bumrah and Shami, if he is fit to play. Shami is brilliant in seaming conditions,” Ratra told TimesofIndia.com.
Panesar, while supporting the extra pace strategy also suggested changes as per the pitch conditions.
“Since it will be a day-night affair and played with the pink ball, India should play one spinner and go with more pace attack. They should go with these if they are playing on a flat track. But if they are going to play on a spinning track, then they should go with two spinners,” Panesar signed off.