Spinners Star as Sri Lanka Win by Three Wicket…

Colombo: Spinner Lakshan Sandakan starred in Sri Lanka’s hard fought three-wicket win over South Africa in the only Twenty20 international after bowling out the visitors for their lowest total in the game’s shortest format.

Electing to bat in the only T20 match of the tour, South Africa were bowled out for 98, a total the hosts surpassed with four overs to spare.

The Proteas, who lost the two-Test series 2-0 and then came back to clinch the one-day internationals 3-2, were two runs less than their previous low score of 100 against Pakistan in 2013.

Dinesh Chandimal, who returned from his ban for breaching the spirit of the game, remained unbeaten on 36 to guide the team home in a tricky chase.

But it was Sandakan’s bowling figures of 3-19 with his left-arm wrist spin that set up the win. He was ably supported by fellow spinners Dhananjaya de Silva and Akila Dananjaya who took two wickets each.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock top-scored with 20 before being run out but the rest of the South African batting fell flat in 16.4 overs.

Sri Lankan batsmen also made heavy weather of their 99-run target as the South African bowlers led by paceman Kagiso Rabada made the hosts work hard for their win.

Rabada, fellow paceman Junior Dala and spinner Tabraiz Shamsi took two wickets each.

From a comfortable 59-2 the hosts slipped to 88-7, but Chandimal kept his calm during his 33-ball stay that laced with 3 fours and 1 six.

Chandimal, 28, was banned for two Tests and four ODIs after refusing to take the field against West Indies following ball-tampering allegations in June.

Sri Lanka now host England for a full series in October-November while South Africa travel to Australia for three ODI matches and one T20 during the same period.

Stokes Has Been Punished Enough, Says Vaughan

England all-rounder Ben Stokes should be welcomed back into the Test team after being cleared of affray on Tuesday, said former national captain Michael Vaughan.

Vaughan, who has forged a successful career as a pundit since retiring from the crease, said the 27-year-old New Zealand-born star had been punished enough over the 11 months since a late night excursion in Bristol following a one day win over the West Indies led to him being charged with affray.

A jury on Tuesday unanimously decided in less than three hours that Stokes was not guilty as was his co-defendant Ryan Ali, who was knocked unconscious in the brawl.

However, Stokes and team-mate Alex Hales – who was with him when the brawl occurred – is likely to face a charge of disrepute by the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) which will be heard by the Cricket Discipline Commission (CDC) chaired by Tim O’Gorman, a former Derbyshire batsman and qualified solicitor.

“I think the fact he missed the whole of the Winter in Australia is punishment enough for Ben Stokes,” tweeted Vaughan.

“I personally think now he has been proven to be Not Guilty he should be allowed to play.”

Stokes’ England team-mate Jonny Bairstow, one of several players who were out with Stokes earlier that evening, said it was great news on both a personal and sporting front.

“I am really happy,” he told Sky Sports.

“It has been a long 10 months for him and his family.

"Hopefully we will see him back in an England shirt soon as we saw the impact he had at Edgbaston,” added Bairstow, referring to Stokes taking four wickets in India’s second innings including the crucial one of Virat Kohli for 51 as England won a tight first Test by 31 runs.

Stokes has been omitted from the squad for the third Test when it was announced on Monday with the ECB saying they would review his position following the conclusion of the trial.

Ben Stokes – A Timeline of a Year Long Turmoil

England all-rounder Ben Stokes was found not guilty of affray by the jury of  Bristol Crown Court on Tuesday (August 14), bringing an end to a turbulent phase for the England all-rounder. The 27-year-old has been in the spotlight off the field ever since his involvement in a brawl outside a Bristol bar in September last year, and has missed out on international action – most notably Ashes 2017/18 in Australia, which England lost 4-0.

Here’s a timeline of all the events that have unfolded over the last year, starting with the ODI series against Windies in 2017.

26th September, 2017

Arrest: Two days after England’s victory over Windies in the second ODI, news of Stokes’ arrest breaks out for his alleged involvement in brawl outside a bar in Bristol. Alex Hales, who was with the all-rounder, was not arrested but returned to Bristol to help police with inquires.

27th September, 2017

Stokes in Ashes squad: ECB announces Ashes squad, with Stokes as the vice-captain. Authorities begin their investigation into the events in Bristol. Stokes suffered a ‘minor fracture’ to his hand during the incident.

Video Emerges of Bristol Brawl: Later that day, The Sun publishes a video of the incident at Bristol, in which Stokes is seen throwing multiple punches in a brawl.

Stokes, Hales removed from squad: The ECB release another statement, declaring Stokes and Hales ‘unavailable for selection until further notice’.

28th September, 2017

Police appeal for witnesses: Avon and Somerset Police appeal for two male witnesses to the events in Bristol to assist with the investigation.

12th October, 2017

Stokes’ agent issues statement: Neil Fairbrother, Stokes’ agent, issues statement saying Stokes will reveal his version of events in Bristol post completion of police investigation. There is also an acknowledgement of the impact there has been on his team-mates.

28th October, 2017

Two men claim Stokes ‘saved them’: Kai Berry and Billy O’Connell reveal to that the all-rounder stepped in to rescue them on the night in question after an alleged homophobic attack. “We were so grateful to Ben for stepping in to help. He was a real hero,” O’Connell told The Sun. “Kai feared he could be attacked. If Ben hadn’t intervened it could have been a lot worse for us.”

27th November, 2017

Ben Stokes (Image: AP)

Stokes heads for Canterbury: Stokes heads for New Zealand, initially to visit family and then for a stint with Canterbury. ECB provides No Objection Certificate.

29th November, 2017

Completion of investigation: Avon and Somerset police announce that they have completed their investigation and sent a file to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) “seeking charging advice”. It is also revealed that a 27-year-old man suffered a fractured eye socket in the incident.

23th December, 2017

ECB gives green light for IPL: ECB chief executive Tom Harrison conveys Stokes will be provided with NOC to appear in the IPL regardless of CPS’s decision or subsequent internal proceedings. He further adds that in the event of a charge, a resolution could take six months to a year.

15th January, 2018

Stokes charged: Stokes vows to clear his name after being charged by the CPS with affray. He will face trial at Bristol Magistrates’ Court at a later date, along with two other men, Ryan Ali, 28, and Ryan Hale, 26.

17th January, 2018

International return announced: Despite charge, Stokes is made available for an England return, and is to be part of the squad for the T20 tri-series in New Zealand. “The Board agreed that it would not be fair, reasonable or proportionate for Ben Stokes to remain unavailable for a further indeterminate period,” a statement said.

Return deferred: Less than 24 hours after being cleared for selection, Stokes’ first court date is set for February 13 – the day of England’s T20 against New Zealand in Wellington which had initially been earmarked for his return.

27th January, 2018

IPL auction: Stokes attracts highest big at IPL 2018 auction, with Rajasthan Royals buying the services of the England all-rounder for Rs 11.5 crores.

13th February, 2018

Stokes pleads not guilty: During a brief appearance at Bristol Magistrates Court, Stokes enters a not guilty plea – along with his two co-defendants – and the case is moved to Crown Court with the first hearing set for March 12. However, it is confirmed Stokes does not need to attend in person and the ECB say he will fly to New Zealand to join up with the squad.

25th February, 2018

England return: Stokes makes his international return in first ODI of five-match series against New Zealand.

12th March, 2018

Trial date set: Bristol Crown Court sets affray trial date for 6th August, 2018. With the proceedings to last between five and seven days, Stokes is set to miss the second Test against India at Lord’s.

(IMAGE: BCCI)

Prior to the start of the trial, Stokes featured in the bilateral series against New Zealand. He then played the 11th edition of the Indian Premier Leauge for Rajasthan Royals, but had a poor outing with the returning franchise.

Trial Proceedings:

August 6: Trail begins: Stokes’ trial commences with prosecutor claiming the all-rounder, acting in ‘revenge, retaliation or punishment’ lost his self-control and knocked two men unconscious in a street fight last September.

August 7: Doorman testifiesStokes made ‘stupid noises’ and ‘camp gestures’ to mimic two gay men outside a nightclub.

August 8: Trial jury views security camera footage of a gay man allegedly grabbing the groin of another defendant shortly before a brawl erupted.

August 9: Stokes reveals he punched a man for abusing another individual ‘for being gay’. Ryan Hale, who was allegedly knocked out by Stokes, said the England cricketer ‘could have killed me’, as he was formally cleared of affray.

August 10: Stokes tells court that he was not an angry man who lost all control and admitted to having only faint recollections of events.

August 13: Stokes admits to throwing punches at Ryan Ali, who is also standing trial, but his barrister hint at Hales’ role in the fight. Same day, England named an unchanged 13-man squad third Test against India at Trent Bridge.

August 14: Stokes found not guilty of affray by jury in under three hours of deliberations, ending proceedings at Bristol Crown Court. After the verdict, the all-rounder was added to the England for the third Test against India at Trent Bridge.

Ben Stokes Added to England Squad for Third Te…

Ben Stokes is in line to play in the third Test against India after being recalled to the squad following his acquittal on a charge of affray on Tuesday.

The 27-year-old New Zealand-born all-rounder, who took six wickets in the first Test victory over India but missed the second Test due to the trial, was found not guilty by a unanimous decision by the jury in Bristol after less than three hours of deliberations.

“Ben Stokes will now join the England squad for the third Test against India, which starts at Trent Bridge on Saturday,” read the statement from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).

However, Stokes and team-mate Alex Hales – who was with him when the brawl took place outside the club in Bristol, southwest England, on September 25 last year but was not charged – could still face bans.

“Now that the legal proceedings have concluded, the disciplinary process for Ben Stokes and Alex Hales can be scheduled by the Cricket Discipline Commission (CDC),” the ECB added in their statement.

“Considerable detail has been heard in this week-long court case and, in due course, there will be a range of matters for the Board to fully consider.”

Stokes Gets Unanimous Not Guilty Verdict

Stokes was found not guilty of affray in a unanimous decision by a jury in less than three hours of deliberations on Tuesday following a trial at Bristol Crown Court.

The 27-year-old – whose co-defendant Ryan Ali was also found unanimously not guilty – had been charged following a brawl hours after England played the West Indies in a one-day international in Bristol, southwest England, in September last year.

His wife, Clare, cried when the not guilty verdicts were returned while Stokes closed his eyes with relief and then looked up.

Stokes shook hands with Ali on leaving the dock at the end of the trial that lasted seven days.

Whilst Stokes – whose travails are not over as he faces a disciplinary hearing by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) – stayed inside a smiling Ali restricted himself to telling the BBC he was “relieved it was all over”.

At the start of the trial the prosecution tried to amend the indictment and charge Stokes with two counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm but this was rejected by the judge.

And half way through the trial Stokes’s legal team attempted to have the case against him dropped but this was also refused by the judge.

The jury had also been warned twice by Peter Blair about press coverage and social media on the latter occasion instructing them to avoid looking at commentary of the case after Stokes’s lawyer raised the issue.

One Twitter user created a poll asking whether Stokes should play cricket for England again if he was convicted but escaped a prison sentence.

‘Memory blackout’

New Zealand-born Stokes said in his testimony last Friday he had a “significant memory blackout” but he was “absolutely not” an angry man who had lost all control.

Stokes – who was with England team-mate Alex Hales – said he intervened because 28-year-old Ali and his friend Ryan Hale – who had been acquitted earlier in the trial – had directed alleged homophobic abuse at gay men William O’Connor and Kai Barry as they walked away from Mbargo nightclub.

Hales, who was interviewed under caution but never arrested in relation to the incident, was seen on the CCTV stamping and kicking Ali in the head as he lay on the floor.

Neither O’Connor nor Barry gave evidence but the judge said imaginations should not run riot as to why that had been the case.

“It is for the prosecution & defence as to what evidence is presented to the jury,” said Blair.

“There is no place for guessing or speculating.”

Stokes went out celebrating after beating the West Indies in a match in Bristol on September 24.

Stokes said he would have had a bottle of beer after the match, two or three pints at the hotel, five or six vodka and lemonades and then “potentially had some Jagerbombs” in Mbargo.

Ali, who is an emergency services worker, had drunk six or seven Jack Daniels and Cokes during his night out with former soldier Hale.

Ali who was knocked unconscious and suffered a fractured eye socket said in his evidence he remained in the care of a surgeon and still suffered from double vision.

He said his memory of the night was “incomplete” due to his head injury.

Ali recalled walking along the street with Hale, Barry and O’Connor, “having a laugh and some banter and the next thing I remember is having a tall blond man charging towards me”.

“I just didn’t want any trouble so I was backing away, trying to retreat.”

Live Cricket Score, Sri Lanka vs South Africa,…

As South Africa and Sri Lanka lock horns in the one-off Twenty20 International in Colombo on Tuesday, August 14, both sides will be keen on finishing off the tour on a high. While Sri Lanka won the largely one-sided Test series 2-0, the visitors came back strongly in the five-match One-Day International series winning the first three games on the bounce to take an unassailable 3-0 lead. The hosts, did, however, stage a comeback winning the final two encounters. The last ODI will particularly hurt the South Africans, who were blown away by the spin of Akila Dananjaya to be bundled out for just 121 with the mystery spinner returning 6 for 29 in nine overs to help Sri Lanka win by 178 runs. It also meant that South Africa despite winning the series slipped to fourth place on the ICC Men’s ODI Team Rankings.

With the T20I being staged in the same venue, Sri Lanka will be hoping to ride on that momentum and sign off on a winning note. For starters, they will be bolstered with the return of Dinesh Chandimal, who comes back after serving his suspension. That means Niroshan Dickwella might have to sit out. Angelo Mathews will continue as captain of the side, though this will be his first 20-over game in over eight months. But the veteran has shown excellent form in the preceding ODI series and will be quietly confident going into the one-off T20I. Sri Lanka’s recent record in the shortest format of the game at home does not inspire too much confidence with both Bangladesh and India outsmarting them in the Nidahas trophy recently, something which South Africa will bear in mind.

There will be a change in captaincy for the visitors with JP Duminy leading the side, in place of the injured Faf du Plessis. Quinton de Kock captained the side in the final two ODIs, though that did not quite go well for South Africa.

Duminy himself is in fine form, having scored 227 runs in five outings striking at a belligerent 135.92. South Africa will hope that rubs onto the team as well.

As far as the head to head record is concerned these two sides have faced off nine times in T20Is. South Africa have won five of these encounters while Sri Lanka have been on the winning side four times.

There is rain in the air in Colombo and there are chances of a thunderstorm, but keeping in mind the drainage conditions on most Sri Lankan grounds, we should get a full game.

Squads

Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (capt), Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Upul Tharanga, Thisara Perera, Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya De Silva, Shehan Jayasuriya, Dasun Shanaka, Akila Dhananjaya, Lakshan Sandakan, Binura Fernando, Lahiru Kumara, Isuru Udana, Kasun Rajitha

South Africa: JP Duminy (capt), Hashim Amla, Junior Dala, Quinton de Kock (wk), Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Wiaan Mulder, Lungisani Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi

Hope I Can Continue This Form at World T20, Sa…

With 387 runs in seven innings at an incredible 77.40, Smriti Mandhana has taken the Women’s Cricket Super League (WCSL) by storm.

Turning out for Western Storm, the Indian opener, with scores of 48, 37, 52*, 43*, 102, 56 and 49 is comfortably the leading run-scorer so far in the tournament and a key reason why Storm have qualified for the Finals day. Striking at 185.16, Mandhana leads the charts for the highest strike-rate and average and has also struck the only hundred so far in the competition, a belligerent 61-ball 102 against Lancashire Thunder.

“I didn’t expect to bat this well in this tournament. I always wanted to come to this tournament to learn a few things that would help me in the T20 World Cup. But yeah, the first T20 century is always special,” said Mandhana in an interview with bcci.tv.

“More than the scores, the way I have been timing the ball in the nets and in the matches is really pleasing. I hope I continue this form in the World Cup.”

With the ICC Women’s World T20 2018, that will be played in the West Indies, just a few months away, the WCSL presents Mandhana a golden opportunity to interact and share the same space as a lot of her contemporaries. This, she says was one of a major reason why she accepted the offer to play in the league without even giving it a second thought.

“When I got this offer from Trevor (Griffin), our coach, the only thing which I was keen was that the World Cup is coming. I didn’t take even, maybe a day to say yes to him, because I was really keen to play this league,” said Mandhana.

“I’ll be playing the same bowlers in the World Cup, and to play them beforehand would be a really big thing and I will also be able to tell all my teammates how they are bowling, and what they are strategising. That was a really big bonus for me.”

Mandhana’s teammates at Storm include the likes of Heather Knight, Anya Shrubsole, Fran Wilson and Stafanie Taylor. The 22-year-old said that she is trying to learn as much as she could from her more experienced colleagues.

“Heather Knight, Shrubsole, Fran Wilson, along with the other England girls, and Stafanie Taylor as well, from the West Indies. So I have been picking her brain as well – how the wickets will be in the West Indies, what the weather will be, so that I can understand the conditions. It’s been really good interactions with them,” said Mandhana.

“I have had one or two lessons with Wilson about reverse sweep, because that’s one thing which I don’t really play, and I am really keen to learn, because you never know in T20 cricket, you have to use one someday. So really good interactions and good friends also. Maybe one day it will help me play better against some international teams.”

The WCSL also presented Mandhana an opportunity to meet her childhood hero – Kumar Sangakkara. The former Sri Lankan legend was doing commentary for one of the games Mandhana was part of, and she quickly made arrangements to meet him.

“I was a huge fan of him (Sangakkara) from when I started watching cricket on TV. Whenever I don’t feel good about my batting, I go back and watch his clips,” she said. “He was doing commentary on our game. So I asked him, ‘Did you feel anything wrong in my batting, which I can improve on?’

"He was like, ‘You are in very good touch. If you think too much about it, you won’t bat the way you are. So just go out there, the way you are batting, I don’t think there’s anything there.’

"That was something really good to know from a legend like Sangakkara sir that he likes my batting and my drives. That was a really good confidence-booster for me. Meeting your idol is always good.”

Storm, the defending champions, play Loughborough Lighting and Surrey Stars before the Finals day on August 27.

Ben Stokes Found Not Guilty of Affray as Jury …

England all-rounder Ben Stokes has been found not guilty of affray as the jury announced its verdict on Tuesday. His co-defendant, Ryan Ali, was also found not guilty.

Stokes was arrested following an incident in Bristol in the early hours of September 25 and had been on trial at Bristol Crown Court from August 6.

(More to Follow)

Bumrah Set to Return, But Are India Being Fair…

First Test, Edgbaston: England reeling at 87 for 7 in the second innings, but recover to score 180, setting India a target of 194. India fall short by 32 runs.

Second Test, Lord’s: India fold for 107 but fight back to reduce England to 131 for 5. Chris Woakes then slams his maiden first-class ton, and along with Jonny Bairstow (93), takes England to 396 for 7. India eventually lose by an innings and 159 runs.

The first two Tests exposed two timeless problems in Indian cricket: Inability to handle quality swing bowling, and the constant struggle to get rid of the tail. India don’t seem to have answers to the former, but they might just about have one for the latter: Jasprit Bumrah.

The yorker-machine and destroyer of tailenders in white-ball cricket, to the massive relief of Indian fans, is likely to be fit again for the third Test, starting in Nottingham on Saturday. Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and R Ashwin have been able to take care of the English top order, and could well do with support from someone to do the rest. With an almost weird arm-action that can generate good pace, Bumrah could be a handful, especially given the likes of Sam Curran and other lower-order batsmen have seen so little of the pacer.

But where does a possible selection of Bumrah leave Umesh Yadav? Not too long ago, Umesh was one of the most wanted bowlers by Virat Kohli, who made no secrets about his love for sheer pace in his early days as captain. Now, Umesh is in a strange position of being a regular in Asia but not overseas. Quite bizarre for a genuine quick who can also swing the ball.

Almost incredibly for a pacer, Umesh played 17 of the 19 Tests – including 12 off the 13 games in the marathon home stretch – in Asia between 2016 and 2017. In the same period, Shami played 11 Tests, Ishant played only seven, and Bhuvneshwar merely three.

Unlike in the past, India did not opt for rank-turners throughout that home season, which meant the pacers too had quite a bit to do. Often bowling on tracks with very little assistance for bowlers of his type, Umesh got 41 wickets in the 19-Test stretch. It could have been a few more if not for some poor slip catching, particularly in the five-Test series against England.

All the talk throughout the season was focused, understandably, on Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. They ran away with the bulk of the wickets, but almost silently, Umesh was developing into a serious pacer, providing crucial breakthroughs every now and then.

“We focus on small contributions. Because the big ones will be talked about anyway,” Kohli had said then, recognizing the efforts of the work-horses.

The spree of Tests seemed to have made Umesh more experienced, and more equipped to be a serious threat as India embarked on their tough overseas assignments in late 2017. He was no more the quick ball-sprayer he was in the past; Umesh’s economy rate before the 2016-17 home season was almost 4. In the 21 Tests India have played since that season started, Umesh’s economy has been 3.23.

Yet, it’s Umesh who has struggled to keep his place in the overseas Tests. He didn’t make it to the XI in any of the three Tests in South Africa. He was not picked even in the third dead-rubber Test in Johannesburg even when India opted for an all-pace attack.

Umesh’s story in the ongoing England tour has been slightly different, but only because of injuries to the other pacers. A strong show in the IPL and injuries to Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah saw Umesh making a comeback to the One-Day International side after almost a year. A four-wicket impressive spell in the tour game against Essex and the absence of Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah sealed Umesh’s spot for the first Test, but Kohli’s confidence in his pacer didn’t last long.

Umesh was guilty of not being tight with the new ball – he picked up 1 for 56 from 17 overs – in the first innings, and was not asked to bowl until the 41st over of the second innings. He did show an improvement and dismissed both India’s thorns – Adil Rashid and Sam Curran – in a seven-over spell, but it wasn’t enough to keep his place for the next Test.

India, incorrectly, thought the Lord’s pitch would assist spin and played Kuldeep Yadav. Fairly or otherwise, with Bumrah fit again, Umesh could continue to remain on the sidelines.

Incidentally, it was Umesh who had to make way when Bumrah entered the Test world in Cape Town despite not having played first-class cricket in more than a year. It showed immediately, as he struggled to identify the ‘Test cricket’ length, bowling either full or short in the first innings conceding 73 from 19 overs in a moderately low-scoring game.

It was one of those X-factor/‘aggressive’ selections that Kohli loves to make, especially overseas: Karn Sharma over Ashwin in Adelaide 2014, Rohit Sharma over Ajinkya Rahane in South Africa last year, KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan over Cheteshwar Pujara in the first England Test, and Kuldeep over a Ravindra Jadeja at Lord’s being a few other examples.

History suggests none of those decisions bore fruit. Karn hasn’t played a Test since. Rohit was dropped after a poor South Africa tour.

But Bumrah adapted better over the next five innings in South Africa and even managed a five-wicket haul, suggesting he can do the job even with the red ball.

He hasn’t had multi-day cricket since then and could well be heading into his first Test in England without much game-time. India’s situation in the series could leave them turning to Bumrah more with hope than conviction, but unlike in South Africa, neither he nor the team has room for failures.

Kohli’s Fitness, Pant’s Inclusion – Five Quest…

Virat Kohli’s men were at the receiving end of a humiliating defeat against England in the second Test at Lord’s. The Indian batsmen were blown away by rampant English bowlers, while the Indian bowlers too were made to suffer. India lost the match by an innings and 159 runs, handing England a 2-0 lead in the five-match series.

The manner in which India lost the second match must have taken a huge toll on their confidence and there’s no way England are going to offer them an easy comeback. The Indian team management will have a lot of thinking to do ahead of the third Test in Nottingham, starting on Saturday, and accordingly, make some tough calls. If the dreadful form of their players wasn’t enough, Kohli’s fitness concern has only made things worse for the visiting side.

India can’t afford to lose at Trent Bridge, which means they will have to sort out following issues before step out for the battle:

Will Virat Kohli be fit?

(AFP)

“Five days to go, (I) should be okay. (It’s the) lower back issue coming up again and again, purely because of the workload. I should be ready for the next game although not (with) the same intensity in the field but I should be good enough to hold a position in the field and be 100% with the bat.”

The Indian skipper has been troubled by a recurring back injury in recent times, which flared up again at Lord’s, forcing him to bat in severe pain. The 29-year-old has managed to exorcise the ghosts of 2014 campaign and has waged a lone battle under hostile conditions against the opposition. Kohli scored 149 and 51 at Edgbaston but failed to replicate that performance in the second Test.

There was a grimace on his face every time he was trying to play a shot in the second innings, and the same injury also affected his running. The physio will have to work overtime to get Kohli match-ready. He will throw himself in even if he is 70-80% fit. Considering his never-say-die attitude, Kohli will make sure he walks out for the toss at Trent Bridge unless the pain is unbearable.

Which opening combination to field?

(AFP)

Shikhar Dhawan – 39 runs in two innings

KL Rahul – 35 runs in four innings

M Vijay – 26 runs in four innings

The stats pretty much reflect how Indian openers have faired out in two Tests. The three batsmen have struggled big time against the likes of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Sam Curran. Dhawan and Vijay did share a 50-run stand in the first innings of the first Test but since then its been all downhill. In the second Test, Anderson got the better of Vijay and Rahul in both the innings. Vijay seems to lack that grittiness which made him one of India’s most trusted overseas batsmen, while Dhawan and Rahul have looked completely out of place.

The openers have been regularly failing to see off the new ball and that’s creating havoc in the middle-order. It’s unlikely that India will drop either of Vijay or Rahul, but what they can do is give Cheteshwar Pujara the opening spot. The 30-year-old belongs to a rare breed of cricketers. He is one of the few out-and-out Test cricket specialists and has the ability to eat up deliveries. He was unfortunately run out in the first innings at Lord’s but then showed some fight in the second. Even though he only scored 17 runs, the Saurashtra batsman lasted for 87 deliveries, more than any other Indian batsman. He can be the one who can see off Anderson and Broad’s opening spells and avoid England from getting an early look-in at the India’s middle-order.

Should India go with six specialist batsmen?

(AFP)

It’s time to put this question to rest. Kohli likes playing five bowlers and it’s next to impossible he will go with six ‘proper’ batsmen. While it was all about Kohli in the first Test, R Ashwin was the only who showed the stomach for a fight in London. Openers haven’t done their job, and neither have Ajinkya Rahane, Dinesh Karthik and Hardik Pandya – the batsman.

Trent Bridge is traditionally a pitch suited for seam and swing bowlers and India is likely to stick with Pandya. The all-rounder did a decent job with the ball in his hands in the last match. However, he will have to contribute more with the bat. India have the option of picking up either of Karun Nair, Dhawan or Rishabh Pant (purely as batsman) but for that they will have change their entire game plan. If the track does offer some turn, Ravindra Jadeja could be Pandya’s only possible replacement.

Time to try Rishabh Pant?

(AFP)

There’s no denying that Karthik is a workhorse and deserves more opportunities. The wicketkeeper-batsman from Tamil Nadu has been in good form in the limited-overs format since being recalled to the national side. Karthik earned his way back to the Test side after Wriddhiman Saha suffered an injury. However, Karthik has failed to replicate his white-ball form in the longest format of the game. He has scores of 0, 1, 20 and 0 in the four innings that he has played in England.

It won’t come as a huge surprise if India do go with Pant in the third Test. After scoring tons of runs in the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy, Pant went on to have a tremendous IPL 2018. The swashbuckler also had a decent stint with the ‘A’ team, and he can be an option that India could explore.

Fantasy booking – How about Pant, the opener? The management can give him the license of playing his natural game and that can upset the rhythm of England’s new-ball pair. Even if the left-hander could manage a quickfire 40-50, it might push the England captain Joe Root outside his comfort zone.

Is the Kuldeep Yadav experiment worth persisting with?

(BCCI)

Playing the young left-arm wrist spinner at Lord’s was a mistake and Kohli admitted it. Kuldeep only bowled nine overs in the match and was taken for 44 runs. To add to that, he also bagged a pair in the match. Unless it turns a lot in Nottingham, Kuldeep will end up making way for one of the pacers. India can also look at Jadeja – who brings more experience and control. The all-rounder can also give India some handy runs down the order.

“Sometimes We Win, Other Times We Learn” – Koh…

Following consecutive defeats in the opening two Tests against England in the ongoing five-match series, Virat Kohli has called on the fans to back India urging them to “never give up” on the side.

The Indian captain took to Facebook to convey the message after India’s innings-and-159-run defeat at Lord’s.

“Sometimes we win and other times we learn. You never give up on us and we promise to never give up on you either. Onwards and upwards,” he wrote.

The Indian side has been under the cosh after their insipid performances in England. They ran the hosts close in the first Test in Birmingham going down by 31 runs, but were completely blown away in the second Test at Lord’s being bowled out for 107 and 130 in the two innings even as England amassed 396/7.

None of the Indian batsmen barring Kohli has managed even a fifty in the two Tests so far which has led to severe criticism of the side from all quarters.

Kohli had accepted that India did not play good cricket in the Lord’s Test but their sole focus was to make it 2-1 in the series.

“We have to accept the mistakes, learn from them, put them aside, make sure we’re not thinking about the same mistakes again, rather get confident and not repeat those again,” he had stressed at the time. “We’re thinking of nothing else but to go 2-1 in the series, and from thereon build on that strongly.“

The third Test will be played at Trent Bridge in Nottingham from Saturday, August 18.