Former Australia skipper Ian Chappell has backed India to win the Test series against England but felt the Ben Stokes-led visitors will give Rohit Sharma and Co. a real battle in the remaining three Tests.
England won the opening Test in Hyderabad by 28 runs, while India bounced back with a 106-run win at Visakhapatnam. The five-match Test series is finely poised at 1-1, with the third Test to be held in Rajkot, starting on February 15.
Both India and England will then travel to Ranchi for the fourth Test beginning on February 23, followed by the final game of the series in Dharamsala on March 7. “As the home side India should eventually win a tough series, but it has a real battle on their hands.”
“England under the aggressive leadership of Stokes are a far cry from the poorly captained Joe Root team that capitulated against spin on their last tour of the country. This India versus England contest is shaping up as it should: a tough five-match encounter between two talented sides,” wrote Chappell in his column for ESPNCricinfo.
While adding that the return of Ravindra Jadeja and KL Rahul will come as a boost for India, Chappell also feels talismanic batter Virat Kohli pulling out of the entire series due to personal reasons is a huge blow.
“India is a strong side and they also have a good leader in Rohit Sharma. They will be greatly strengthened by Ravindra Jadeja’s and KL Rahul’s recovery from injury, but that Virat Kohli will not return for the rest of the series is a blow.
“Hopefully the selectors will now stop overestimating Shreyas Iyer’s batting ability and learn to value Kuldeep Yadav’s wicket-taking capability more. Ben Stokes’ aggressive approach to captaincy may have failed to claim victory in a hard-fought second Test but the five-match series against India is still wide open at 1-1,” he said.
Stokes is all set to play his 100th Test match when the third game of the series begins at Rajkot, and Chappell thinks the all-rounder has proved to be a very astute leader for England.
“Stokes has been extremely smart to adopt such an approach and his aggressive tactics have brought England great success in the win column. It’s an approach that England were extremely slow to adopt but Stokes has shown himself to be a strong-minded and smart leader.
“The England team has great belief in Stokes and it shows both on and off the field. The team takes wickets because they are continually looking for them, and this challenge is accepted by the bowlers. One of the great benefits of this strategy is that it enthuses the best players, and they are the ones most likely to affect the final result.”
Chappell also explained how Stokes’ leadership skills are boosting the confidence of the young spin trio Rehan Ahmed, Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir. “Stokes’ attitude has helped the younger players believe in themselves, and this is showing in their bowling performances.
“The success of young players Tom Hartley, Rehan Ahmed and Shoaib Bashir is no fluke; it epitomises the confidence instilled by Stokes’ approach. Hartley’s success with both bat and ball should make the limited Jack Leach redundant in the Test side. One of England’s weaknesses has been their spin department, but Stokes’ positive approach suddenly means that slow bowling has a number of candidates.”
Chappell signed off by noting Stokes can contribute more with the bat, with him being unable to bowl in India due to undergoing a left knee surgery last year. “It will help England enormously if Stokes is once again able to function as an allrounder, as his bowling is a distinct weapon. It would also help if he fielded in the slips, especially to the spinners, as he is one of the best in that position.
“One personal area Stokes could look at is his own batting. If he were more proactive at the start of each innings, it would improve his play. Stokes is a very good batter but he’s at his best when he’s looking to score.”