India face England in the third Test on Thursday looking to restore some normality and authority to their five-game series but they will do so knowing that Virat Kohli is now unavailable for the remainder of the matches.
England won the opening Test of the series by only 28 runs after amassing 420 runs in their second innings to overcome a deficit of 190 from the first.
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The second Test produced another comeback from England but they eventually fell 106 runs short of their target, having conceded a first-innings deficit of 143.
Kohli was absent for both matches, due to personal reasons that have seen him miss a substantial number of India’s games this year, and has since announced he is unavailable for the duration of England’s tour.
India have also been hit by the news that KL Rahul will also miss the upcoming match in Rajkot, having also missed the second Test due to a thigh injury.
‘India are the stronger side even in Kohli’s absence’
Former England bowler Angus Fraser was one of the selectors for the 2016 tour of India when Kohli ended as the leading run scorer with 655 runs as India claimed a 4-0 series win.
“It’s a big loss but they’ve coped without him in the first two matches,” Fraser told Al Jazeera.
“England have played remarkably well in the first two games, especially with the first-innings deficits, but they may well have lost both Tests had Kohli been there.
“He may well have been the figure that scored the extra runs to win the first Test match, too.
“India are the favourites and the stronger side even in his absence because there are enough players and runs around to put England under pressure.”
🚨 NEWS 🚨#TeamIndia's Squad for final three Tests against England announced.
— BCCI (@BCCI) February 10, 2024
Fraser’s international career spanned 10 years from 1989 to 1999 but was held up by a hip injury.
The former Middlesex seamer did claim 177 wickets in 46 Tests at an average of 27 and, two years into his England career, was applauded from the field by the Australian fans after a six-wicket haul at a packed Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The 58-year-old believes the win in the first Test of this series is the greatest he’s seen. With that Ollie Pope’s 196 in the second innings was “therefore the greatest overseas innings by an England batter” and the victory alone surpassed the 3-0 Test-series win in Pakistan in 2022 that produced some stunning finishes.
“I know that everyone got excited about the win in Pakistan last winter but this was a far better win,” he said.
“Coming back from the position they were in with such an inexperienced spin attack too, to beat India on a difficult surface was just phenomenal.”
England have produced something ‘pretty special’
With three Tests to play though, there is a clear problem brewing for England greater than the loss of Kohli to India, in Fraser’s opinion.
“They’ve produced something pretty special and they’ve performed admirably in the second Test, too, but they are going to need more runs from the bigger names [Joe] Root and [Ben] Stokes if they are going to compete,” he said.
“They can’t afford to be giving away first innings deficits that they have done.
“My worry is, they’ve had a week off before the next two Test matches but the intensity and stress of playing back-to-back, high-intensity cricket in a short period of time, what effect will that have on the spinners.”
We're all with you, Leachy ❤️
Nobody braver than you 💪
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) February 11, 2024
On that front, England have their own departure with Jack Leach forced to withdraw from the remainder of the series due to a knee problem.
That leaves England with the inexperienced spin attack of Tom Hartley, who claimed nine wickets in the opening match of the series, Rehan Ahmed and Shoaib Bashir.
“There’s an excitement and an energy created by going through this for the first time or two but you hope the intensity and the fatigue factor doesn’t get into Ahmed and Bashir over the coming Test matches,” Fraser continued.
“The departure of Leach is a loss but that’s where it’s going to be decided is England scoring runs and hopefully England’s spin bowlers in particular not getting tired and fatigued by the whole experience.”
Hats off to the Indian Cricket Team for a remarkable win by 106 runs in the 2nd Test of the England tour, led by @ybj_19's exceptional double century and @ShubmanGill's outstanding century. Applause to @ashwinravi99 and @Jaspritbumrah93 for their impressive bowling skills,… pic.twitter.com/IEEO9Iv7XF
— Jay Shah (@JayShah) February 5, 2024
‘Great players grab hold of situations’
If England win the series against an Indian team deprived of their star player then the question of “what if” will always be there much as it already is over the first two Tests.
It would, nevertheless, be a great achievement given the power and depth India possess in every department and with the number one Test bowler in the world, Jasprit Bumrah.
England’s chances are though boosted by the absence of a player whose aura is impossible to replace.
“It’s not just with the bat that he’s missed, his presence on the field and the competitiveness that he brings in the field are missed, too,” Fraser concluded.
“There’s a presence a sense of ‘he might do something’ – great players like Shane Warne have it.
“The possibility that they will do something. Great players grab hold of situations. Kohli is not the captain but will influence the captain and the mood of the competition that is taking place out there.
“You see that by his reaction when wickets are taken – there’s a real intensity about the way he plays his cricket and that has a positive impact on the team that he plays for.”