Rajkot Test pitch preview with Captain Ahab

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Ben Stokes’ cap has been looking pretty tatty, but he is due a new one for his 100th Test match in Rajkot this week. The series currently sits at 1-1 with – glory be! – three Tests still to play.

Ravindra Jadeja will most likely return for India, while England are apparently going with two quick bowlers (James Anderson and Mark Wood) for the first time this series.

Is that the right decision? We took the obvious course of action and boarded the Nantucket whaling ship, the Pequod, to ask the opinion of its captain.

Captain Ahab says…

The path to England’s fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon their souls are grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly they must rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way. To Rajkot they now roll!

Another Test. Another obstacle to be overcome. Intimidating? Aye. But this is what ye have shipped for, men!

Rajkot has hosted just two Test matches in its time: a draw against England in 2016 and a crushing home victory over the West Indies in 2018.

The England match drew hundreds, the way a whale carcass lashed to a ship draws sharks. Being an England captain seems to help. Ben Stokes, Joe Root and Alastair Cook all reached three figures, as did Moeen Ali.

Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara also made tons, but England, batting first, had the better of things, snaffling six wickets in 50 overs on the final day after setting India a steep victory target.

Three of those wickets went to Adil Rashid, who also took four in the first innings. Most bowlers chipped in over the course of the match, but spinners of all forms were the more significant players.

The West Indies match appeared, at first, to be following a similar pattern, India racking up a leviathan of a total: 649-9. Prithvi Shaw, Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja all hit hundreds and Pujara and Rishabh Pant got close.

But then things changed. The tourists were punctured by India’s harpoons and rolled fin-out. They were shot out for 181 and 196. R Ashwin took 4-37 in the first innings and all 10 went to spinners in the second. A conclusion? Rajkot is not unfriendly to the seamers… but let that not detract from eternal truths.

If the ever-rolling waves tell us anything, it is that some mysteries cannot easily be read. Before this series, the prophecy was that England should be dismembered; and aye, they’ve lost a leg. But there have been hints too that they might dismember their dismemberer. If that is to be, a big first innings total is a necessity.

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  1. It’s been a while since we’ve had a good old-fashioned fat cricketer. Three cheers for Sarfaraz Khan.

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