India blend bowling smarts with luck to claim early honours

Soon after the highly-anticipated Test series between England and India kicked off, smoke was billowing to the west of the stadium. It seemed harmless enough and the cricket continued unperturbed, and the smoke died down soon after. But if that was to be read as a sign, England might well have played with more caution. Twice, the hosts saw themselves rise to a position which allowed them to dominate the game. Twice, they shot themselves in the foot and came crashing down. By the end of the day, England, who’d won the toss and elected to bat, found themselves in trouble at 285 for 9, with R Ashwin (4 for 60) and Mohammed Shami (2 for 64) doing the bulk of the damage.

But England didn’t find themselves on a rocking boat due to their own incompetence, it was as much India’s moments of brilliance and luck that combined to leave England in a spot.

The first such moment arrived as early as the ninth over. Ashwin was brought on as the surprise first change bowler, and he must’ve left both captains wondering if they should’ve picked a second spinner in their sides. The offspinner got Alastair Cook out with a beauty, getting the ball to turn from middle to hit top of off.

The second was as spectacular, but more telling in effect. Virat Kohli chased after a ball that was chipped to the leg side by Jonny Bairstow. It didn’t look like a second run was on, but Bairstow and Joe Root decided to test the opposition skipper. Kohli picked up the ball and threw off balance to hit the wicket at the non-striker’s end direct.

Kohli’s stunning work in the outfield came in the 63rd over, and brought to an end a well-paced and mostly risk-free alliance between Root and Bairstow. They pair had added 103 runs in only 137 deliveries before Kohli beat Root’s desperate, sprawling dive to make it back to the crease.

In between those two moments, England found their phases of command. After the early wicket of Cook for 13, Keaton Jennings and Root put on a confident 72 runs to take the side to Lunch at 83 for 1. They were allowed to stretch that by a further 15 runs before Jennings somehow managed to get bowled. An inside edge off Shami popped into the crease, spun back from outside the leg stump and hit the off stump to dislodge the bails – ball of the century, anyone? Not long after, Dawid Malan was caught on the crease by another Shami in-cutter to be trapped LBW.

That was followed by England’s most successful stand. At 112 for 3, England were praying. And on Yorkshire Day, two Yorkshire batsmen stood up to answer them. Root looked in sublime form – driving, dabbing and flicking with ease to set the platform, while Bairstow took the more adventurous approach. They were helped by some largely lifeless bowling from India. Umesh Yadav was wayward, and deservedly expensive. Ishant Sharma lost his effectiveness after a strong first spell, while Shami, Ashwin and Hardik Pandya too were handled with ease.

Root’s impressive innings was highlighted by the calmness he showed at the crease, a hallmark that has always set him apart from the rest. He was ever willing to absorb pressure, as he did during Ishant and Ashwin’s opening spells, while also being on the constant lookout for runs. Once he had his eye in, the dabs to the onside for single became a constant, while anything over pitched or wayward were punished for more runs.

Increasingly, it started to look as if England will themselves have to find a way to get out, and considering Root’s 100 conversion record, a wicket was on the cards. And sure as rain, it arrived.

Bairstow’s call for a second off a clip of Ashwin allowed Kohli to celebrate a fantastic run-out with three flying kisses, and a mocking of his counterpart’s bat-drop celebration from the final ODI versus India. Root was out for 80, and England went missing soon after.

Bairstow’s risky approach brought about his downfall, as he chopped Umesh on while on 70, while Buttler did everything right but put bat to ball to an Ashwin off-spinner to be out LBW. Ben Stokes followed soon after, meekly chipping a ball, that seemed to have stopped on him, back to Ashwin as England slumped to 243 for 7.

Adil Rashid and Sam Curran provided some fireworks in a 35-run stand, but Ishant nipped that partnership in the bud, by getting rid of Rashid LBW. Ashwin got his fourth soon after with a quick straighter one that rapped Stuart Broad’s pad before he could even bring his bat down in defence. Anderson and Curran played the last couple of overs, with Curran getting a reprieve from Dinesh Karthik, as England went in to Stumps at 285 for 9.

India had dropped Cheteshwar Pujara in favour of playing KL Rahul at number three for the game; they will hope their new-look batting order can do better than England’s in what seems to be pretty straightforward batting conditions.

Brief scores: England 285/9 (Joe Root 80, Jonny Bairstow 70; R Ashwin 4-60, Mohammed Shami 2-64) vs India

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