In a way, it is fitting that the start of India’s long international season begins in Bengaluru, in rainy weather. But comparisons to England can end there, because conditions at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, for Afghanistan’s inaugural Test, are so different to what India will possibly encounter at Edgbaston on August 1.
The Chinnaswamy pitch has a brownish tinge, and the grass covering could be just enough to hold the surface together. Producing a dry turner would have been tough, given the intermittent rain, but the surface could have bounce: an important element favouring wristspin. Similar conditions in Dharamsala last year prompted India to hand Kuldeep Yadav a debut to accommodate three spinners. Going by the team’s three-day preparatory camp in Bengaluru, that combination is unlikely to be discarded easily.
On the second day of the camp, Kuldeep spent considerable time bowling at an open net in addition to his usual routines. He has been successful in limited-overs cricket, and this could well be a sign of the team management wanting to give him a go in Tests before they pick the squad for England. That may or may not rule Jadeja out for this Test, but it could offer a peek into the team’s mindset, even though Ajinkya Rahane, the India captain for this match, steered clear of talking about team combinations.
If India want to accommodate a third spinner, they need to ask themselves whether they are willing to sacrifice an extra batsman. Going by what transpired at the nets, this seems unlikely. There were enough hints that the management wants have a look at Karun Nair ahead of the England tour. Although he will lead India A in two four-day games there next month, the Test squad is likely to be announced much earlier.
Nair was seen working against the rising ball in particular. Throwdown specialist Raghavindra hurled wet tennis balls into the turf from a short distance, getting Nair to sway away, duck or pull.
“I think I have become fitter. I have improved my skills over the last two years. I think I have done a lot, and scoring runs in domestic cricket really helps,” Nair said of his preparation. “I have worked on my fitness, my fielding, and every aspect of the game. I know that I am a better batsman now than I was two years ago.
“You know that you’re going to get a few innings and you have to make the most of it. If you settle down and keep making consistent scores then you have some breathing space. You’re obviously waiting for that one opportunity to do well, so like anyone else, I am excited.”
The hard grind over the last three days allowed India to have optional nets on match eve. They tested themselves against wristspinners and frontline pacers, took throwdowns against the short ball from 18 yards, and looked to sweep from the rough. On Tuesday, the batsmen focused on leaving the ball, and the fielding coach’s focus was on close-in catching. The shuffling movements of some batsmen, like Rahul from outside leg stump to middle and leg, was also closely monitored. All these were perhaps signs of format-specific training.
“Preparation has been very good. Over the last three days, the focus has been on tuning our minds, especially because we’re coming in after two months of the IPL,” Rahane said. “Skill-wise, it won’t make a difference, but our attitude [towards training] matters, if you have to make a quick switch in terms of our mindset from T20s to Test cricket.”
This is Rahane’s second Test as captain, a challenge extremely different to leading an IPL franchise. Against Australia in Dharamsala, Rahane was handed the job on the eve of the match. Here, he’s had time to prepare mentally.
“When you’re leading the country, it’s an honour. It’s altogether a different feeling. While you’re captaining a franchise, the challenges are, players come from different parts of the world, the cultures are completely different,” Rahane said. “As a captain or a leader, you have to know how to handle them individually and how to get the best out of them. Yes, that taught me a lot. I learnt a lot from captaining Rajasthan Royals, but captaining an Indian team is an honour.
“From our side, we will play like how we approach any other team. Our attitude will remain the same on the field, it’s important because every Test counts, we don’t want to take anyone lightly, but we’re lucky to be part of this historic Test.”