Already statistically the most successful Test captain in Indian cricket history, there are still boxes that are left for Virat Kohli to check. Under his leadership India have built a dynasty, have become invincible at home and have sealed a famous series win in Australia, but are yet to script series victories in three of the four SENA countries.
One among the three is England, where they lost 1-4 three years ago, but lying in front of Kohli and his men is a golden opportunity to script history, with them having taken a 1-0 lead courtesy a monumental victory at Lords’.
A series win in England would do wonders to Kohli’s legacy, and ahead of the third Test in Leeds, former England skipper David Gower asserted that Kohli’s ‘number one ambition’ currently will be to ensure that his side conquers English soil.
“Victory in England is something Virat Kohli, as a leader, would love to tick off. We know Kohli, there is so much passion that comes oozing out of every pore. You can see it’s so obvious. And his great ambition I’m sure, over the next few weeks, it’s to seal the series,” Gower said speaking exclusively on Cricket.com, previewing the third Test.
“If India go 2-0 up in Leeds they can’t lose the series, and it would give them a fabulous springboard to win one more Test and win the series. It would be an equally spectacular achievement (as Australia).”
Rain helped England walk away with a draw in the first Test but the hosts got no favor from their country’s weather in the second Test, where they slipped to a stunning 151-run defeat courtesy a spirited performance from the Indians on the final day.
Heading into the third Test 1-0 down, Gower believes England can level the series if they can find the bouncebackability, but claimed that it will be an extremely tough challenge for the Three Lions given their over-reliance on Root.
“If England can find that bouncebackability, then they can make it 1-1. But, as things stand, India seem to have the greater resilience, they’ve got more men in form overall, both with bat and ball, while England rely too heavily on Joe Root.
“Lord’s was a classic example - the top three disappeared in both innings in the blink of an eye. No proper side can survive without a good top three. That’s something that needs to change very very quickly for England.”
England have recalled the experienced Dawid Malan to address top-order-woes, and, like Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali, the southpaw too has been drafted into the squad directly from the Hundred. Though the 33-year-old has a first-class score of 199 under his belt for Yorkshire this season, he hasn’t played any red-ball cricket in two months, with his last appearance coming against Sussex in June.
Gower reckoned that the ECB are not making life easy for themselves and the players by thrusting cricketers into the Test side on the back of white-ball form, and opined that it will be a ‘mighty tough ask’ for Malan to excel against an in-form Indian bowling unit.
“Malan now plays for Yorkshire and would have had some game-time at Headingley, which wouldn’t do any harm, but at the same time he is yet another player, in this current system, coming into the toughest form of cricket on the back of white-ball cricket. The last time he played red-ball cricket was months ago.
“He would take some confidence from playing in The Hundred, but he would have to make a huge adjustment to make this work. Unless there’s a miracle and the openers manage to add 70 or 80, Malan is going to be facing an attack full of confidence, full of ability, skill and everything. That’s going to be a mighty tough ask,” the former England skipper said.
While Malan is expected to play, there is still uncertainty over who will take the place of the injured Mark Wood. Somerset’s Craig Overton is one of the contenders, but Gower threw his weight behind the young and exciting Saqib Mahmood, who, according to the former England skipper, has all the tools to succeed at the highest level.
“I would suggest Mahmood (for Wood). I’ve seen him bowl very very well in all forms of cricket in the last 12 months. He’s sharp, he’s got movement and I think he is so much a better bowler now then when he first threatened to be an international.
“I would like to see him play. Experience has been a very special thing for him. I think he’s got all the tools you need - what he needs now is time playing international cricket.”
India are not facing selection conundrums like England, but there is still the never-ending debate about whether Ravichandran Ashwin should make the starting XI. Ashwin was left out of each of the first two Tests, and the decision to omit him was vindicated at Lord’s, where Indian seamers took 19 of the 20 English wickets that fell.
Despite the presence of Malan making it three left-handers in England’s top seven, Gower opined that he does not expect India to fix something that is not broken.
“Probably not (bringing in Ashwin). Why try and fix something that’s not broken? The one talking point we’ll always have to discuss is the prospect of Ravichandran Ashwin carrying drinks yet again. Headingley is not the place for two spinners and so I expect India to stick with Jadeja, who played the first two Tests.
“The likelihood is that the damage will be done by the quicker bowlers. That would be everyone’s suspicion because they’re in form, and Headingley tends to help the seamers. It never tends to help spinners. With England bringing in more left-handers, there is definite merit behind India playing Ashwin. That brings him into the picture for sure. But I’ll be immensely surprised if there’s more than one spinner,” Gower said.
With the quicker bowlers having taken a staggering 86.7% wickets since 2016, Headingley, in recent times, has been a fast bowler’s paradise. But according to Gower, how the wicket plays out will entirely depend on the weather.
“The simple rule is this: if it’s sunny, it plays pretty well, if it’s overcast, it tends to help the fast medium bowlers. Not necessarily the faster bowlers but the fast-medium, ‘kiss the surface’ bowlers. Those who give the ball time to swing and let it grip off the surface.”