The last time India and England met in Test match at Rajkot, during the 2016 series, Joe Root got a 124, Ben Stokes made 128 and Jonny Bairstow 46. Batting first, England amassed 537.
The bowlers had to toil hard. R Ashwin bowled 46.5 overs to claim 2/167, Mohammed Sami and Umesh Yadav also ended up bowling 28.1 and 31.5 overs respectively.
It ended up being a high-scoring draw but India were put under pressure in the second innings and a dogged rearguard action by R Ashwin (32 runs) and Ravindra Jadeja (32*) helped them finish at 172/6.
England’s two premier batters, Root and Bairstow, have had a quiet series so far but coming back to a venue where you have had some success is always good for the confidence. Along with Stokes, they will be looking forward to batting again at Rajkot.
But how good will the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium pitch be this time around? During the first Ranji game of this season, last month, Cheteshwar Pujara got an unbeaten 243 in Saurashtra’s total of 578/4 declared .
The BCCI curator will be in charge of the pitch preparation but a normal Rajkot pitch is “is full of runs”.
“If the match lasts for five days, it will be a very interesting Test match. I am very sure, there will be a result,” says former India pacer Karsan Ghavri who knows the conditions well, having coached Saurashtra to their maiden Ranji Trophy title in the 2019-20 season.
The positive brand of cricket England are playing now means that if the playing surface stays true to its original nature, then it is a venue which will suit the visitors style of play too. In Bazball, England bank on their batting might than bowling strength to win games and a true surface often brings the best out of them.
As witnessed in the first two Tests, Ben Stokes’ team is bringing in the crowds. Ghavri, himself, is a fan of England’s style and is looking forward to watching the game live at the SCA.
“This England team, irrespective whether they are playing on a turning track or in Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, are playing very positive cricket. They are playing for the ticket-paying spectators. No one was coming to the ground 10-15 years ago but their result-driven approach is working. This is how Test cricket should go on,” says Ghavri, who was the biggest name to come out of Rajkot in the 1970s and went on to play 39 Tests for India, forming a lethal new-ball pair with Kapil Dev.
Locked 1-1 after two brilliant games of Test cricket, India sure will have a game at the Saurashtra Cricket Stadium.
“The way England are playing; the series is very much alive. They are playing fearless cricket and somebody who plays with that attitude will always be in the game. India needs to find a higher gear if they need to win the series,” said former India opener Wasim Jaffer. “They (England batters) are playing with the bowler’s mind also. Their captain and coach are backing this (attacking) method, and it has worked for them. If the conditions are good for batting, it will help (them),” he adds.
Used to dominating at home, this time India have mostly been reacting to what the visitors are doing. At Visakhapatnam, the hosts did well to win and level the series, but it was mainly based on individual brilliance than a strong team show. There wasn’t much to separate between the sides; England lost but were in no way outplayed to dent their confidence.
The onus is on the bowlers to come up with a gameplan for the conditions during the third Test. The Indian spinners have not been able to work their usual magic. It is pace spearhead, Jasprit Bumrah, who has stepped up against Bazball – he was the man of the match at Vizag with nine wickets. Most of all he has England’s most experienced batters, Root and Bairstow, under pressure. Root’s highest score in four innings is 29 and Bairstow’s is 37 as Bumrah has taken both out twice.
Ghavri predicted a slow turner at SCA but said fast bowlers will have a role to play at Rajkot as well.
“Fast bowlers will have a laugh on the first day, whether it is India or England’s Anderson, whoever bowls first will have that initial advantage. Supposedly, at Rajkot if India bowls first then Bumrah can carve them open, whether in his first spell or second spell. The Rajkot wicket is like that,” said Ghavri. “From the third day onwards the pitch will definitely slow down and start helping the spinners.”
And that is where the manner in which England have played India’s spinners becomes a big factor. Usually, in the past, Ashwin and Co would run riot at this point. But this series has been different.
“Most of the foreign batters have come to India and played a lot of cricket, so I don’t think the conditions are alien to foreigners that much,” said Jaffer. “On top of that, the fearless attitude makes it even more difficult because they attack the spinners. They have got that freedom to play freely, they are not bad players of spin. Ben Duckett is good player of spin, Joe Root is very good against spin, so is Ben Stokes. When you counterattack, the fielding side can’t have to many close-in fielders, that’s the reason they put so much pressure on the bowlers plus the run-rate is very high.”
Jaffer added: “For the sweep and reverse sweep you have to put fielders in different positions. They are playing with the bowler’s mind also, they are prepared to play attacking cricket and their captain and coach are backing this method, and it has worked for them. If the conditions are good for batting, it will help (them). India needs to stick to the basics I feel. The spinners don’t need to bowl fast, if you bowl a little slower then there is a chance of mistiming and the top edge comes into play too.”
Indeed, the challenge for India will be to unsettle England. Bumrah has shown that it can be done but the spinners need to come to the party as well.
“Everybody has to take a bit of risk irrespective of whether it is a low-scoring or a high-scoring game,” said Ghavri.