The rate at which India batted on the first day is their slowest in the first innings in the WTC cycle. Though this was also a factor of the rain-laden slow outfield. Yet, there was never a dull moment in the contest. 60.4 overs was all we got in the second day before the bizarre bad light – after intervening twice earlier – finally put the day’s play to a close.
Given a washed-out first day and a truncated second, the first question on everyone’s mind is on the weather forecast for the third day.
In the UK, the weather is tough to predict. But, multiple sources, including the BBC’s weather app, predicts light showers early in the morning but cloud cover with a reduced chance of rain after the scheduled start of play.
Hence, we might see a delayed start but the forecast looks promising for the rest of the day.
What score will India be eyeing for?
Since 2017, England have hosted 29 Tests. Only thrice have a team lost after posting 250+ in their first innings. This number is zero when the first innings score was 330+.
When Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane walk out to bat, a total of 350 - around 200 from India are at right now - will be on their mind. But, given the weather around and India’s bowling line-up, a first-innings total of around 250 will take a lot of gutsy batting from the Kiwis to overhaul.
Resuming from where he left off in England in 2018, batting out of character, prioritising defence over attack, Kohli looked quite comfortable on day two. He has not scored an international century since 2019, so it is natural to be an air of anticipation in what is perhaps the biggest stage in World Test cricket ever. But before he reaches that milestone, he is eyeing his second-slowest half-century in Tests. The slowest being in 171 balls against England in Nagpur way back in 2012.
Will Southee’s luck change?
The Duke’s ball swings all day. The first interruption due to bad light resulted in an early Tea on the second day. When the play resumed, Tim Southee was into his third spell. In the same over – 58th of the innings – Southee beat Kohli and Rahane twice each. On another day, with some luck, he would have had both in the same over. But, even after improving his line and length in his second and third spell, Southee went wicketless and was the unluckiest bowler on the day.
Southee drew the most false shots overall. Kohli batted at a control of around 90% all day but to Southee, this was down by around 10%. Before lunch, Kohli faced five balls from Southee, Kohli left the three that moved away from his stumps and took a single off one of the two that were on his pads. In his third spell late in the day, Southee had Kohli play a false shot once in every 4-5 balls. In his first two spells comprising of five and four overs, Southee strayed around 13% balls down the leg side. He reduced it by half in his eight-over third spell that naturally ensured he was testing the batsman's outside edge thrice in every four balls. Having played the ball late all day, close to his eye line despite being outside his crease, Kohli was pushing away from his body lured by Southee's lengths for that brief period.
Along expected lines, the other bowler who caused the most discomfort to the Indian batsmen was Kyle Jamieson. Throughout the day, he was the toughest bowler to score off for the Indians, as his economy also suggests. But his lengths helped the Indian batsmen to leave the ball on height and line. Only 11.9% of his deliveries were in the 4-6 meter region from the batsmen as compared to 36.3% from Southee in this region.
Having bowled to England batsmen in the last few weeks, it took some time for the Kiwis to adapt to the flair and intent of the Indian batsmen. Playing outside their crease to negate the swing and then letting the bat flow along the movement of the ball saw Indian batsmen hit some delightful strokes throughout the day. But, later in the day, Southee offered a template for the other New Zealand bowlers to follow.
The contest between Southee, moving the Duke’s ball in English conditions, and India’s captain and vice-captain, has made one wish for more such neutral venue Tests already. For now, all eyes are on a brighter third day.