AUGUST 1, 2018
Brief Scorecard: Innings 1 – England 285/9 (Root 80, Bairstow 70, Ashwin 4 for 60)
On Yorkshire Day, two Yorkshire batsmen put England in a position from which to dominate India, but then gifted the ascendancy back to an alert and hungry visiting side. The moment of inspiration came from India’s captain Virat Kohli who ran out Joe Root – once again between 50 and 100 – with a direct hit from deep midwicket, after which this side’s biggest match-winner R Ashwin, took out the dangerous duo of Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler. He ended the day needing one wicket to become the first India spinner to take a five-for in England since 2002. England ended the day at 285 for 9, having at one stage been 216 for 3.
What will worry England is that they lost wickets to soft dismissals on a slow and low pitch that looked as though it ought to have assisted India more: seven of the nine wickets to fall were either bowled or lbw, which is India’s speciality. But what will infuriate England is that Root and Jonny Bairstow had the attack at their mercy, going at more than six an over in the final session until Root responded to Bairstow’s call for a second run that didn’t exist. It all went downhill for them thereafter. Kohli is ruthless.
He doesn’t think twice before accepting such gifts, having all too often been part of the side on the receiving end of such lapses. The moment arose after Bairstow pushed Ashwin towards deep midwicket where Kohli, to judge by his leisurely initial response, didn’t appear to have considered the possibility of the batsmen attempting a second run. But then he heard the call, and all those hours of strength training kicked in. He went from leisure to business in no time, and Root would have struggled even without a stutter. The exclamation point was how Ashwin judged that the shy was going to hit the stumps, and let the ball go through MS Dhoni-style.
Kohli seized the moment to remind Root, and all of England, of his bat-drop celebration after he had finished off the Headingley ODI. He blew kisses. He pressed his finger to his lips. And then he uttered the words that might just be the most enduring ones for this series: “Mic drop?” followed by two words that lip-readers will tell you were of four and three letters, the second of which is “off”. There has been so much talk of Kohli’s batting and his record in England, but here Kohli the fielder had opened the door for India to barge through.
Even before this brilliance in the field, Kohli had had a lively start to his day. He dropped Cheteshwar Pujara from India’s starting XI, picked only one spinner, and announced to the world that he wouldn’t look back and regret it if things went wrong. We make a decision and try to make the best of it, he has always said. And after losing the toss, his new-ball bowlers were losing their discipline when he surprised everybody by bringing Ashwin on in the seventh over of the Test.
Ashwin had two left-hand batsmen in his sights, a damp pitch that can often offer turn, and a new ball prone to natural variation when it lands on the seam. Out of India’s limited-overs sides, under pressure every time a wristspinner does well with the white ball, and always reminded of his record in these parts of the world, Ashwin showed none of that anxiety. In only his second over, Ashwin set Alastair Cook up beautifully: a quick arm ball to push him back, a slow offbreak to lure him forward, another arm ball, another offbreak, and then the killer offbreak that pitched on middle, much straighter than the rest. The bat face closed ever so slightly, and the slow ball, given every chance to turn by the revs and the seam position towards short third man, spun past the defensive prod.
As the early moisture dried out, England’s batsmen – Root and Keaton Jennings, the latter dropped on 9 by Ajinkya Rahane at slip – the turn went out and the batsmen became more comfortable. Ishant Sharma was too short, Umesh Yadav too straight, and it was left to Mohammed Shami, returning from personal problems and a failed fitness test, to keep India in the game. He did so with the wickets of Jennings and Malan in the middle session, but an urgent Bairstow had begin to take the momentum away from India in the second hour of the middle session.
India looked ragged at the start of the final session. Shami was down on pace. Ashwin was attacked. Root and Bairstow were scoring at will. Even defensive fields were not working. It looked like Root had gone past those concentration breaks that had resulted in his last 10 half-centuries not getting translated into hundreds. And then they took the ill-advised second. Moments later, Bairstow dragged Umesh onto his own stumps.
Ashwin is often criticised for using too many variations. A lazy bit of advice that every expert gives to him is to concentrate only on the offbreak. Here he showed he didn’t need that advice. He used his variations, a lot of them, but he also showed he is a bowler at peace with, and in total control of, his game. The arm ball with the upright seam swerved beautifully away from the right-handers. He even bowled a front-of-the-hand legbreak that swung back in. And then natural variation did the trick. He bowled an offbreak that turned enough to beat Buttler’s inside edge but not enough to miss the leg stump. Stokes played hesitantly at a long hop, offering a return catch. Not long before, it had seemed India were in for a long leather hunt on day two, but with England suddenly in freefall, it seemed the India openers might have to take guard on day one itself.
Allrounder Sam Curran kept that from happening, but Ishant and Ashwin inflicted one final blow each before stumps to make the day India’s beyond any reasonable doubt.
Courtesy: Mirror / ESPNCricinfo