A desperate India decided to go for the jugular by going for a spicy turner against a well-prepared English team in the second Test debut on Saturday, well aware that it can boomerangs and cost them a place in the World Championship final of Test.
The Australian series honeymoon is over after a 227 point loss in the first test that must have shaken a complacent team from their amazement before three high-stakes test matches.
But it’s a perfect stopover for Indian skipper Virat Kohli, who loves to put his A game to the fore when the chips are low.
With the crowd back in the heated cauldron ready to push him, which he thrives on, the Indian captain would be eyeing a good fight against some very steadfast opposition. India must win two games and not lose any of the games to qualify for the WTC final.
England will have a new goalkeeper at Ben Foakes and Stuart Broad will replace James Anderson as part of the workload management. Also in the mix is Moeen Ali, a known foe of India, in place of Dom Bess, the first wicket taker of the last game.
Jofra Archer’s elbow injury could make way for versatile bowler Chris Woakes, who is a practical batsman as well as a good stimulator in his own right.
“Jofra is a slight setback, but I hope he’s fit and ready for the third test,” team skipper and No. 1 batsman Joe Root said on the eve of the game.
A look at the newly laid dark colored Chepauk track is an indication that unlike the strip used in the first test, this one will offer a turn earlier than expected.
Ravichandran Ashwin will need a lot of support from the other side in terms of both restrictive and offensive options.
A fit Axar Patel is the closest to identically replacing an injured Ravindra Jadeja. The beginnings of Patel’s test seem imminent as Ashwin will need someone to hang on to the other end.
However, one cannot be so sure about Kuldeep Yadav, who during his short six-try career has played some tough matches.
He would want to be a better attacking option than Washington Sundar, but on a rank turner where the stick becomes important, Hardik Pandya can step into the fray.
20-year-old Washington could turn out to be a great all-rounder in the Ravi Shastri mold in the years to come, but as of now he’s not good enough to play as a third specialist.
Kuldeep is a great offensive option, but the team management’s continued reluctance to play him is an indication of the lack of confidence in the Uttar Pradesh wrist thrower’s abilities in recent times.
Hardik, on the other hand, might just be able to score those quick points against 8-10 spinners and balls, which is the maximum required of a fifth bowler on friendly ground.
The management of the Indian team, after two lackluster first days at Chepauk in the opener, had two options for the second test.
The first option was to leave a generous sprinkle of grass and then get tested by the Anderson-Broad duo, who would have had the SG test to land on the seam and move off the field.
The second option, which they took, was to shave the grass and water the land very little, letting it cook in the sun.
The ball will bounce and spin and the tape will break much sooner, but India has had cases where this type of track has turned against it.
Come back to Pune 2017, when Steve Smith punished them on a row turner on day one. The home team had no idea the ball would spin that much.
Or maybe the best innings ever played in India – Kevin Pietersen’s epic 186 in Mumbai in 2012. India played a single stimulator to Zaheer Khan with Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha opening the bowling alley.
In both matches, it was rival spinners (Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar in 12 and Steve O’Keefe in 2017) who took advantage of the conditions and rocked the Indian batsmen in their own lair.
The draw will be very crucial and even though the corners are square Kohli will look to beat first and expect Rohit Sharma to go beyond the pretty two or three shots he has managed so far.
He should give the team a big hundred that they desperately need him.
Kohli gave a master class on how to play the reverse swing in the first test, but it still takes two to tango.
Whether it’s a Cheteshwar Pujara or an Ajinkya Rahane or a Rishabh Pant, the Indian skipper will need support to keep his team’s chances of booking a flight to London.
India (from): Virat Kohli (captain), Ajinkya Rahane (vice-captain), Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rishab Pant (week), Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasiprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Siraj, Washington Sundar, Kuldeep Yadav, Axar Patel, Hardik Pandya, Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, Wriddhiman Saha, Shardul Thakur.
England (from): Joe Root (captain), Dominic Sibley, Rory Burns, Ollie Pope, Dan Lawrence, Ben Stokes, Ben Foakes (wk), Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad, Jack Leach, Olly Stone.