By Michael Stafford-Jones
- England must find other ways to dismiss Virat Kohli due to the absence of Ben Stokes
- Ollie Pope will make his debut in the middle-order but is he too young to be selected?
- England’s batsmen must step up and score more runs to help their team win this series
LORD’S, ENGLAND – After Sam Curran produced a superb performance to inspire England to a stunning First Test win, the team will look to build on that in the Second Test.
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How do you solve a problem like Kohli?
Virat Kohli brought his struggles in England to an end in stunning style with a masterful 149 in the first innings at Edgbaston. It was the kind of innings that usually sets up a team’s victory, and it probably would have done if India’s other batsmen had performed to anywhere near the same level as their captain.
The hosts cannot go to Lord’s expecting all of India’s other batsmen to fail again, so they will have to find ways to dismiss Kohli. For most of the First Test, he played very defensively against his nemesis Jimmy Anderson, and most of the time it worked. On one of the few occasions he played a false shot against the England seamer, Dawid Malan dropped a simple slip catch.
That chance came early in the Indian captain’s innings, and he grew more confident against Anderson as his innings went on. He also looked largely untroubled by the rest of England’s bowling attack until Ben Stokes dismissed him in the second innings.
Who will step up in Stokes’ absence?
In normal circumstances, when a bowler removes a troublesome batsman in one match, his captain will throw the ball to him in the next match when that player comes to the crease. However, due to Stokes’ court case, that option will not be available to Joe Root at Lord’s.
The most likely replacement for the inspirational all-rounder is Chris Woakes, and he might actually be an ideal bowler to get the wicket of Kohli because he has two major ways of achieving it. The first is a similar method to Anderson: Pitch the ball on around off-stump and swing it away to take the edge of the bat. The second method resembles Stokes’ dismissal: An inswinger that gets the batsman out bowled or LBW.
Of course, Anderson himself might get Kohli out, and if he does that before the Indian captain scores many runs in the match then perhaps the doubts will return to the superstar’s mind. Alternatively, Sam Curran, who was so impressive at Edgbaston, may be able to sneak an inswinger past Kohli’s defences.
Another way England could take Indian wickets, including that of Kohli, is to encourage batsmen to attack against Adil Rashid. If they set intelligent fields for the leg-spinner and the seamers keep it tight at the other end, India’s batsmen could go for big shots and get caught out.
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Is it too early to select Ollie Pope?
Even before he dropped Kohli in the slips, the writing was on the wall for Malan as he made just eight in the first innings. When he came out to bat in the second innings, he fought desperately to stay at the crease as long as possible. However, his innings of 20 from 64 balls was painful to watch and he never looked comfortable.
Since his impressive debut series in The Ashes, Malan has averaged just 20 in 17 innings and, unsurprisingly, his poor performance at Edgbaston did not save him from the axe.
Head Selector Ed Smith has elected to call up 20-year-old Ollie Pope in his place. The Surrey middle-order batsman has played a starring role for his county this season. He has scored 684 runs at an average of 85.50 and has made three centuries and a fifty. But is it too early to bring him into the international fold?
There is no doubting his talent, as those figures show. And anyone who has watched him bat for Surrey in the County Championship this season will have been impressed. However, maybe it would have been better to wait another year until he has a bit more experience.
It is too late for such sentiments now. Smith clearly subscribes to the adage that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough, and we will see at Lord’s if he has got it right in the case of Pope.
Can England’s batsmen propel them to 400?
One of the simplest ways to win a Test match is to make a total of 400 or more in your first innings. However, England have only done this five times in their last 16 Test matches due to a variety of problems.
Sometimes one or two batsmen perform well while the others flounder. This happened in the first innings of the First Test at Edgbaston, Root scored 80 and Jonny Bairstow made 70, but the other five front-line batsmen only contributed 84 runs between them. That is simply not good enough, and it is the primary reason why England were all out for 287.
Other times, several players make a good start and then get out before posting a significant score, as was often the case in Australia and New Zealand. And sometimes most batsmen are dismissed cheaply and England end up with a very low total, as they did the last time they were at Lord’s against Pakistan.
So which England will turn up this time? Many of their batsmen are capable of hitting centuries and at least one of them needs to do it at Lord’s. Most of them have critics to answer: Alastair Cook often faces questions about when he will retire; Keaton Jennings must establish himself as an opener; Root is horrendous at converting fifties into hundreds; Bairstow has only scored five centuries in his Test career; and Jos Buttler made 0 and 1 at Edgbaston.
However, it is impossible to predict the most likely centurion in the line-up, as the only thing that consistently happens when England bat is that Root scores fifty.
The second test between England and India takes place at Lords, on 9 August, 11am BST.
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