This post deals with day 1 in Chennai, where India and England have been doing battle. For those of us here in the UK coverage has been available on Channel Four for TV fans (which I am not – don’t look here for any comments about TV coverage) and on Talksport 2 for radio fans who want live commentary (TMS have been running a ‘cricket social’ on n 5 live sports extra). The time difference between the UK and India, and my preferred methods of following the game meant that at 3:45AM local time I was tuned into talksport2 and had a cricinfo window open on my computer for extra detail.
England were without Zak Crawley due to injury but did have Stokes, Pope and Archer all available and all were duly selected. England also departed from their stated rotation policy with the veterans and gave Anderson a second successive match. Fortunately, for all that some who should have known better were spruiking such a move England did not pick Moeen Ali. The selected lineup was thus: Sibley, Burns, Lawrence, *Root, Stokes, Pope, Buttler, Bess, Archer, Leach, Anderson. India meanwhile had lost left arm spinner Axar Patel to injury. Somewhat surprisingly they opted not pick wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav, going instead for deepening their batting by picking both offspinners, Sundar and Ashwin, both of whom are handy with the bat alongside a debutant left arm spinner, Shahbaz Nadeem. Joe Root won the toss and chose to bat. Indian skipper Kohli, being a sensible chap, did not resort to the ‘psychological ploy’ of saying that he would have bowled anyway (note to captains who still do this, no one is buying it, OK?) opting instead for honesty.
The morning started quietly, but with no great trouble for England. With 15 minutes to go until lunch the score was 63-0, but then Burns essayed a reverse sweep, not wise on day one of a test match and especially not so close to lunch, and edged the ball to Pant who took the catch. In the next over the unfortunate Lawrence got an absolute beauty from Bumrah and was pinned LBW and it was 63-2. The third umpire then spent ages agonizing over a decision on a potential run out after Root was a bit dozy, but fortunately he had made his ground. England took lunch at 67-2, and Root and Sibley were able to regroup. Post lunch scoring was slow initially but neither batter looked in any real trouble. Things picked up somewhat in the second half of the afternoon session and England reached tea at 140-2, with Root playing superbly and Sibley doing precisely what he was in the side to do: bat time and get some miles into the bowlers legs.
After tea Root hit the accelerator, while Sibley continued to be an excellent foil at the other end. Sundar was bowled comparatively sparingly, and was expensive and sadly posed little threat. Nadeem’s debut was marred by the bowling of several no-balls (pretty much inexcusable for a spinner), leaving only Ashwin as genuinely threatening spinner. The faster bowlers were better, Ishant being accurate enough to command respect at all times, and Bumrah bowling splendidly and deserving rather more reward than he actually got.
There were three scheduled balls of the day remaining and we were deep into the half hour over spill in which overs can be bowled when another corker of a ball from Bumrah pinned Sibley LBW. Because we were already over time, the dismissal ended play for the day, which means that England will resume on 263-3, Root 128 not out and Stokes the new batter. Root’s innings was a gem, his handling of the spinners especially brilliant. Sibley was rocklike until that fourth last ball of the day beat him, and his determined effort should not be overlooked. Root’s first innings scores in his last three tests have been 228, 186 and now 128 not out with power to add. In terms of an English batter going big successively in two different away countries I can think only of Hammond in 1933 who scored 101 and 75 not out in the fifth and final Ashes test and then produced scores of 227 and 336 not out in New Zealand in the next two games as a performance to rival Root’s.
Sundar’s figures of 12-0-55-0 indicate the problem with picking someone in a bowling role based on their batting ability, and underline the rightness of England not selecting Moeen Ali who is undoubtedly a less skilled practitioner with the ball than Sundar.
Root and Stokes need to get England through the first hour of tomorrow, and then England should have India where they want them. Root after the close made it quite clear that England are aiming to go big, and on this surface which appears to be very unresponsive that is necessary – I reckon that at minimum England need to double their current score before they can feel in control of things. However, I would much rather be in their shoes than India’s at the moment, hence the title of this piece.
There has been some sun today, and the finches are out in force here in North Lynn…