India vs England: Tourists are defying their underdog tag on the sub-continent

Outside Edge: After two fine days at the crease, England look likely to confound predictions that India would walk away from this series with a whitewash

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The Independent Online

After two days, England have shown against India that they can bat on the sub-continent after all. For three batsmen to take centuries off an attack including Ravi Ashwin et al is no mean feat and the only question remaining is whether England’s own bowlers will fare any better.

True, the pitch in Rajkot has been relatively benign, but it isn’t as flat as many which touring sides have encountered in the past. Moeen Ali was unlucky not to bowl Murali Vijay with an absolute snorter which ripped between bat and pad, while a delivery to Gautam Gambhir by the same bowler spat out of the rough and ended up leaping over Jonny Bairstow’s shoulder. Chances will come England’s way.

Perhaps England’s display ought not to have come as such a surprise. Predictions that India barely needed to turn up in order to secure a 5-0 win seemed hugely overdone. Ashwin in particular has taken vast numbers of wickets recently (including 27 in three matches against the touring New Zealanders earlier this autumn), but he has been stunted by England before. India’s attack is extremely good but it is not unplayable.

What is more, England are manifestly not no-hopers against spin, however much they contrived to give that impression against Bangladesh. Joe Root is one of the world’s best batsmen against any comers and his judgement of length means he can combat high-class spinners better than almost anyone. Moeen Ali, meanwhile, has looked in good form since being promoted to number 5 and Ben Stokes would get in England’s first XI as a batsman alone. His improvements against spin have been well-documented, but they are no less impressive for the cataloguing. Jonny Bairstow’s confidence is sky-high too, while Alistair Cook’s record speaks for itself. Add in Haseeb Hameed, who made an impressive debut, and Ben Duckett, who is surely a better bet at four, and one starts to wonder why such a line-up could have been regarded as rank underdogs.

Is Ansari finally about to take his chance?

Zafar Ansari has hardly had an easy introduction to international cricket. He was first picked for a one-off ODI against Ireland in May 2015. The game was rained off and is remembered largely for being the backdrop to Peter Moores discovering from the media that he was about to be sacked.

A few months later, having been overlooked for the rest of the English summer, Ansari was included in the touring party for England’s trip to play Pakistan in the UAE. Yet a broken thumb within hours of his selection being announced ended any chance of his being involved. Further injuries this summer seemed to have stymied his progress and there was a degree of surprise when he was named in the squad to face Bangladesh and India.

Yet despite being thought of as the squad’s fourth spinner, Ansari pushed his way ahead of his Surrey captain Gareth Batty in Dhakka. And a couple of second innings wickets there were enough to secure a spot in the line-up for this test.

Of course, Ansari is a genuine all-rounder as far as Surrey are concerned and he looked at ease at the crease in Rajkot: in no other team would he possibly be coming in at number 10. He made a reasonable start with the ball too, showing a consistency of line and length that continues to evade Adil Rashid. Now all he needs to do is snare a hatful of Indian batsman. 

Trump put us in the corridor of uncertainty

I went to bed on Tuesday evening with the resolute intention of not waking up to check on the American election. A wailing baby put paid to that at 2am and it was clear even then that things were starting to go off the rails for Hillary Clinton. Attempts to go back to sleep were as fruitless as Democrat hopes of victory. Thank goodness then for cricket and the soothing voices of Test Match Special, to which I turned despairingly at 4 o’clock in the morning. Aggers and co might even have induced renewed slumber had the Independent’s news editor, and duty, not called an hour later.

Still, in these tempestuous times, test cricket is something to be held close – a source of calm amidst the turbulence, of constancy in a changing world. If only they played it in America.   

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