England ride on Root’s ton
On an unforgivingly hot day, India endured their toughest outing on home soil in the last one year.
On the other hand, England, who appeared to have wasted an encouraging start, ploughed their way back into the game as Joe Root (124, 180b, 11x4, 1x6) and Moeen Ali (99 batting, 192b, 9x4) combined to foil India’s designs on Wednesday’s opening day of the first Test.
At stumps, the visitors were comfortably placed at 311/4 in 93 overs, having slipped to 102 for three in the first session in front of a sparse crowd.
The day began on an inauspicious note for Virat Kohli who lost his first toss in eight home Test matches and the Englishmen had no reason not to bat first.
It appeared a typical Indian wicket although there was more-than-normal sprinkling of grass on the square. That India went in with five specialist bowlers reflected the fact that the fielding side was going to have a torrid time.
It didn’t help India’s cause that they fluffed as many as three chances in the first hour itself with Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav troubling the English openers, especially skipper Alastair Cook (21), and creating opportunities. The Indian slip cordon, however, appeared to have applied more butter on their fingers than on their bread during breakfast.
Cook was dropped on zero and one while debutant Haseeb Hameed earned a reprieve on 13. By botching up these catches, India lost a great opportunity to put the English middle-order under pressure. Cook looked out of sorts, beaten outside the off repeatedly. Hameed, the youngest opener to debut for England, though belied his inexperience. Mixing old-style batsmanship with the belligerence of youth, the 19-year-old showed he belonged to the stage.
The introduction of spinners from both ends after the first 10 overs slowed down the run-rate but a wicket remained elusive before Cook shuffled across to flick Ravindra Jadeja and got rapped on the pads. The appeal for LBW was upheld but replays showed the ball would have missed leg-stump by a long way. On Hameed’s word, Cook didn’t review the decision and he was left to rue the decision. After almost 10 overs, Hameed was involved in another blunder. He looked plumb in front off R Ashwin but called for DRS for the first time in India in a Test match on the advice of his partner Root. On review, the decision stayed thus ending the right-hander’s maiden international outing. So much for having experience in the use of DRS!
Ben Duckett’s aggressive stint lasted only 17 balls as he was foxed into edging a beautifully tossed up delivery that turned away after pitching. Ajinkya Rahane atoned for his earlier miss by pouching a low catch to his right at which point the lunch was taken. While Root appeared in little trouble, the fall of Duckett at the stroke of lunch shifted the pressure back on England but upon resumption, India failed to drive home that advantage.
The intensity on the field was conspicuous by its absence while the bowlers lacked discipline on an admittedly easy wicket to bat. Kohli, too, let things drift as Root and new batsman Moeen Ali were allowed to gather singles without much trouble. Even as India struggled to put the squeeze, Root and Ali began to collect runs freely.
With the lack of turn on the pitch sowing few doubts in batsmen’s minds, they swept and drove the ball to pickets confidently. In the process Root brought up his 11th career century, and third against India, to underline his status one of the premier batsmen in the world.
With the three-spinner combination making little impact on the batsmen, Kohli wanted the new ball which was available after the 80th over. But Umesh preferred to bowl with the old one, which was offering a hint of reverse swing. He was proved right when Root offered a return catch that ended the 179-run stand (290 balls) but not before some drama. Umesh tossed the ball behind his head in celebration immediately after catching and then attempted to recollect in vain, giving an impression that he wasn’t in full control of the ball. The replays, however, confirmed the bowler had completed the take much to the relief of Indians. Ali, however, grew in strength to bring himself on the cusp of a well-deserved 100 on Indian soil.
The hosts’ struggles also laid bare the gulf in the quality of batsmanship against spin between England and the other teams – Sri Lanka, South Africa, West Indies and New Zealand – that have been humbled by India in the past 12 months. Kohli’s men, finally, may have met their match.