India seek improvement to middle-order batting in third Test against England at Rajkot

India seek improvement to middle-order batting in third Test against England at Rajkot

India seek improvement to middle-order batting in third Test against England at Rajkot

Two Tests down in the five-match series between India and England, and it’s all square 1-1. There’s still three matches to go in what has been an enticing series so far, and the third Test scheduled to start in Rajkot from Thursday (15 February) would feel like the start of a fresh series between the two sides given the considerable amount of gap (10 days) between the second and third Tests.

So much so that, England even took a quick trip back to Abu Dhabi for a training camp and arrived back in India on Monday.

For India, meanwhile, it hasn’t been their premier spinners Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel who have headlined their bowling but Jasprit Bumrah, who has outshone the tweakers across both the Tests.

So, where are the concerns for the two teams going into the third Test and where can they improve upon?

No Kohli, several issues

The absence of Virat Kohli from the Team India squad for the remaining three Tests against England is most certainly a huge blow. Kohli opted himself out from the squad for the first two Tests due to personal reasons and once again made himself unavailable for the second half of the series. Kohli’s absence means there’s a big void to be filled for India in the number four position and the middle order.

While there wouldn’t be much confusion on India’s number three batter, the same cannot be said about the middle-order. Shubman Gill finally broke his big knock drought at the No 3 position in Vizag, with a century in the second innings, but come the remaining Tests, Gill will need to go that extra mile and play the anchor’s role.

It’s to be noted that Gill had sustained a finger injury during the Vizag Test and had not taken the field on Day four of the Test. Gill had injured his right index finger, and underwent scans, with the batter having said that he would be fine following the tests.

And although Gill skipped Tuesday’s training session in Rajkot, a report in News18 CricketNext said that it was because of Gill arriving late on Monday and it had nothing to do with the injury.

Shubman Gill
Shubman Gill in action during the second Test between India and England in Vizag. Sporzpics

Apart from the number three position, it’s the middle-order slots that need to be sorted out. KL Rahul, who suffered a right quadriceps injury that ruled him out of the second Test, is set to miss another.

Then there’s Shreyas Iyer.

Iyer has struggled against short balls, especially against the pacers, and his approach to the game has also been questionable. Following a below-par performance in both Tests, it was almost certain that Iyer would be dropped. With Iyer’s absence and injury to Rahul, India’s middle order looks even more depleted.

Test debuts to be handed out

This could mean a Test debut for Sarfaraz Khan, who has been waiting on the Team India sidelines for quite a while.

Rajat Patidar, who showed promise in the first innings of the second Test in Vizag, will also retain his place in the playing XI for the third Test.

As far as his batting is concerned, KS Bharat has also not been that impactful barring a knock of 41 in the first innings of the first Test in Hyderabad. The wicketkeeper-batter endured scores of 17 and 6 in the second Test, which could mean Dhruv Jurel making his Test debut.

There have been questions on Jasprit Bumrah’s participation in the third Test. Bumrah skipped India’s training session in Rajkot on Tuesday, whereas Mohammed Siraj was seen bowling full tilt. However, given the threat he poses and his ability to strike regularly, it could mean both Siraj and Bumrah end up playing together with Kuldeep Yadav or Axar Patel missing out.

England batters’  struggles against Bumrah and spin

Most of England’s batters seemed to struggle against spin in the second Test in Vizag. Zak Crawley, who scored fifties in both innings of the second Test, was an exception to that, and knew what he had to do against India’s spinners — hit it straight.

Joe Root is another excellent player of spin but hasn’t been able to replicate his form in the current tour, much like how he had done previously.

England’s struggles against spinners were a major component of why they ended up losing the second Test by 106 runs. Ben Duckett, a vital part of England’s top-order, has collapsed to spinners on three of the last four of his innings in this series. Jonny Bairstow, too, has failed to live up to the expectations with the bat, and while England batters have often employed the sweep shots against spinners, they are in for another tough test in Rajkot, where it may turn later in the match.

They were brave in Hyderabad and a series of sweep and reverse sweeps worked in their favour but the same couldn’t help them at Visakhapatnam. Indian spinners redeemed their performance in the second innings of the second Test and for the rest, there’s always Bumrah, who leaves you speechless and stunned.

Simply put, England batters will have to play sensibly and cautiously against spinners and not take undue risks. A batting collapse is what the visitors need to make sure shouldn’t happen again.

As far as playing XIs are concerned, England have already revealed their lineup ahead of the third Test, with Mark Wood replacing Shoaib Bashir.

India predicted XI: Rohit Sharma (capt), Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubman Gill, Rajat Patidar, Sarfaraz Khan, Dhruv Jurel (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj.

England XI (Confirmed): Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Ollie Pope, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes (capt), Ben Foakes (wk), Rehan Ahmed, Tom Hartley, Mark Wood, James Anderson