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CAN INDIA ACHIEVE HEADINGLEY HAT-TRICK?

India are in Leeds with a 1-0 series lead and have a terrific chance to take an unassailable advantage against an injury-hit England.

Virat Kohli Lords Test 2021
Virat Kohli's Indian cricket team is up 1-0 after beating England at Lord's. (Credit: BCCI)

If you’re feeling a bit fuzzy recollecting the last time an Indian cricket team played a Test match at Headingley, don’t worry. It has been a while.

The last time India played a Test at Headingley, it took 16 seconds for a web page to load, the iPhone hadn’t been invented, Netflix relied on postmen for the delivery of DVDs, Friendster was the most popular social media site and Donald Trump was just some rich guy. Let all that set in. 

The last time an Indian cricket team played a Test match in Leeds was in August 2002, when Sourav Ganguly’s men beat England by an innings to level a four-match series at 1-1 with a game to spare. It remains the only Test match where the big three of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Ganguly scored centuries in the same innings.

Four Test tours to England have been completed since then. In 2007, under Dravid, India won a series in that country for the first time since 1986. In 2011, MS Dhoni’s team was beaten 0-4 and three years later, also under Dhoni, India were smashed 1-4. In 2018, Virat Kohli’s team suffered defeat by the same margin. Now, in 2021, Kohli’s India are up 1-0 with three Tests to go after scripting a tremendous turnaround on the last day at Lord’s.

India vs England Lords Test 2021
The winning moment as India beat England by 151 runs at Lord’s. (Credit: Twitter)

In 2007, India escaped with a narrow and fortuitous draw at Lord’s to head to Nottingham with the series open. At Trent Bridge, inspired by Zaheer Khan, they beat England for a 1-0 lead that proved unassailable. Four years on, India lost four straight Test matches by margins of 196 runs, 319 runs and two innings defeats. In 2014, a draw at Trent Bridge was followed by a superb victory at Lord’s to put Dhoni’s team up 1-0. They lost the next three Tests to squander a terrific platform.

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In 2018, with Kohli firmly in charge, India won the third Test around two losses on either side. The positive from that series loss was Kohli’s stirring statement of intent after the horrors of 2014, and the emergence of India’s pace bowlers as a unit to challenge the best in the game. In 2021, emboldened by successive Test series wins in Australia and boasting the best pace attack in the Test format today, India are up 1-0 over a beleaguered and injury-ravaged England. They expect to win the series, and not settle for less, such is the confidence instilled in Kohli’s men.

Indeed, this is their best chance to turn 1-0 into 2-0. Mark Wood is the latest England player to go down injured this series, leaving Joe Root without the last of his 90-plus fast men. That leaves Root to cajole James Anderson, at 39, into potentially playing all five Tests against India and hoping that Ollie Robinson and one of Craig Overton, Sam Curran and the uncapped Saqib Mahmood not just assist Test cricket’s greatest fast bowler but also take wickets.

Joe Root captaincy
Joe Root’s captaincy came under fire after England’s Lord’s defeat. (Image: ECB)

Tellingly, Anderson’s bowling average over the past three years when divided by opponent’s first and second innings reveal a worrying trend: that he does not do well as Test matches progress. In six Tests since 2018, Anderson averages 18.43 in the first innings and 95.66, with a strike-rate of 204, in the second. The difference in wickets taken too is stark: 23 versus three. As much as Root has to worry about scoring most of England’s runs – in 2021, he has 1227 and England’s next best, Rory Burns, is 914 runs behind with 363 – in this series, his focus is also on getting Anderson through five days of Test cricket.

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England have dropped Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley, the only player to feature in each of England’s last 22 Tests, from the squad which means that Haseeb Hameed will open and the recalled Dawid Malan should slot in at No 3 after winning head coach Chris Silverwood’s confidence. Malan, ranked No in T20Is, has not played a Test since he was dropped in 2018.

India, meanwhile, might consider swapping Ishant Sharma with Shardul Thakur given the conditions at Headingley. Shardul bowled very well at Trent Bridge before he was sidelined with a niggle, and offers India a much-needed lower-order batting option. As well as Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah batted for their record stand of 89* on day five at Lord’s, a tail that spans numbers eight to 11 is far from ideal, as the stats show for India over the past four years. And Ishant, the oldest bowler in this Indian squad, is at the point where like Anderson and England, he needs to be rotated to ensure his longevity.

For the record, India have won their last two Test visits to Leeds, in 1986 and 2002. This is their best chance for a hat-trick at this storied venue, where pace has traditionally dominated but, noticeably, batsmen have pulled off big chases. In 2017, after England racked up 490/8 in their second innings, West Indies chased a target of 322 with five wickets in hand. In 2019, Ben Stokes’ innings for the ages took England to an epic one-wicket win during the Ashes, after Australia bowled them out for 67 and then set them 359.

So then, would Root actually not mind batting last at Headingley?

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