Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 4, 2018

England vs India First Test Day Three

Another electrifying day of cricket, illuminated by players at either end of their careers and others very much in the middle, finished with India 110-5, 84 runs short of their target with a very tense morning in the offing. The match would have a winner of course, but Test cricket, so often deemed an anachronism in the age of digital gratification, emerged once again as a sporting proposition like no other. What a match!

England resumed on 9-1 (the lead 22) with the current England captain replacing his fading predecessor, Alastair Cook out to the last ball of Day Two. Also resuming was Ravichandran Ashwin, who swiftly found the edge of Keaton Jennings’ bat, KL Rahul taking the sharp chance at slip. Jennings was done by a mix of indeterminate footwork and left-handedness – a fatal combination against Ashwin’s drift, bounce and movement.

Dawid Malan looked to have learned the lesson and was immediately positive – which, naturally, brings its own risks. Three close catchers hovered no more than two steps from his outside edge, no doubt offering some conjecture on his future prospects. For all that, Malan looked more a Test batsman for a certain sprightliness in demeanour and attitude – a thick set man, he can appear leaden footed at times, but not today. In a variation on a cliché, Malan was playing the career situation rather than the match situation – but that seemed wise.

Root was at his ease again, going back to Ashwin’s off break to hit against the spin into the open spaces on the offside, but with his bat vertical and late in its impact to mitigate the risk. The timing took it to the fence – and the connoisseurs in the crowd purred. They made a rather different sound soon after when Root, like so many players these days, inexplicably flicked the ball straight into leg slip’s hands and then stood in disbelief – but that’s what fielders do! Jonny Bairstow almost repeated the trick to his first ball – don’t they look at the field?

In a curious incident, Malan edged Ishant Sharma to Shikhar Dhawan who started a celebration at first slip then signalled a review, as he was unsure as to whether the catch had carried. Aleem Dar sent it upstairs and the usual problems with television compressing two dimensions into three ensued. Marais Erasmus had to go with Dar’s soft signal of not out, but I, like Malan and plenty in the ground (and probably Dhawan too) thought it more likely to have carried than not. Malan, on 17, had enjoyed a bit of fortune.

For all Malan’s positive approach, he was tentative in being turned around by a little away swing/seam from Sharma, caught at gully by Ajinkya Rahane. Even if Malan had middled the ball, it was merely a push into the legside and not a pull. It looked the shot of a condemned man, his score of 20 unlikely to silence the doubters.

Things got no better for the home side, Sharma picking up Bairstow and Ben Stokes by attacking the outside edge. Sharma was bowling as well as he had ever done in England, but the harsh truth was that India merely needed to retain the discipline required to bowl to plans in order to blow England’s middle order away. Too many batsmen with high reputations and good records were unwilling to line up the ball, making the half-bat’s width movement fatal. 86-6 at lunch and Saturday tickets were available very cheap on Ebay.

Sharma completed the over broken by the interval with the wicket of England’s vice-captain, Jos Buttler, who essayed a flat-footed drive off a length ball outside off stump in a wanton disregard of the match situation. He had celebrated his new responsibility by facing four balls in the match. At 87-7, England had lost six wickets for 78 runs on the day and the crowd were restive.

Sam Curran and Adil Rashid livened things up for the home fans, putting on 44 for the eighth wicket, Curran especially impressive before, with lights on and to the bemusement of many, the umpires called the players in for bad light. Perhaps Dhawan’s spill of a relatively easy catch at first slip – spoiling a fine day in the field for the visitors – played some part in the decision, but it was a curious thing to do in the midst of the most productive stand of the innings.

The break did the trick for India, Rashid unable to lay a bat on outswingers from Umesh Yadav before losing his off stump to a swift inswinger. The stand was worth 48, the best of the innings, Rashid’s share 16 – three more stands of 40-odd would make things interesting.

Curran thought the same way, launching Ashwin back over his head for successive boundaries before pinching the strike by pushing the ball into the gap where long-on had been. It roused the crowd and lifted the lead to 173. The adrenaline flowing, the 20 year old slashed / poked and missed six times in an over from the sharpish Yadav – the luck probably deserved after such enterprise.

The 24,000 strong crowd were on their feet when Curran stepped to leg and slammed Sharma over extra cover for the six that took him to a maiden fifty, the fifth youngest batsman to notch one for England in Tests (supplementing yesterday’s feat when he became the fourth youngest bowler to take four wickets in a Test innings). It was an innings full of raw talent and promise from the Baby-faced Assassin, who showed with the bat (as he had yesterday with the ball) that he has the temperament for the big occasion. How much he will bat for Surrey or England over the next five years may determine how far he will go as an all-rounder, but it would be a shame to see his second skill reduced to thrashing at the end of white ball innings or in 30-odd not outs from 8 or 9 in red ball cricket.

Just before tea, Stuart Broad’s fun was ended by yet another edge, beautifully taken by Dhawan, tumbling at first slip. The left-handers had added a useful 41, the lead 189 with England’s last pair at the crease. Curran had a little more thrashing, but eventually did tickle one to Dinesh Kathik out for a splendid 63, the innings closing on 180. Sharma had a fivefer, supported by Ashwin’s 1, 2, 3 in the order and Yadav’s couple down the order.

India would chase 194, which they should get – I say should…

And they would if England continued to shell chances, the Murali Vijay dropped by the maladroit Malan off the luckless Anderson. It just wasn’t Malan’s Test – and nor might be the next one after another poor day at the crease and in the slips. At least Vijay’s reprieve didn’t last long, LBW padding up to an in-slanting delivery from Broad. The crowd were involved, knowing that a famous Broad streak might just be coming.

One flat-footed Dhawan drive and edge to Bairstow later, the streak was on, India 22-2 and King Kohli at the crease. Edgbaston, for the first time all match, was earning its reputation of England’s Gabbatoir, the noise echoing round the concrete bowl. The blood was up on the field and off.

Broad and Anderson knew that this moment was England’s best chance and both charged in, finding swing despite the sunshine. Kohli was looking to leave Anderson whenever he could, reluctant to chase it outside the off stump. Not so KL Rahul who was undone by Stokes’ kicking seamer (to be fair, he had to play it), a regulation edge going through to Bairstow. At 46-3, the scoreboard was balanced… but Kohli was still there.

Rahane, never settled, was given out on review, caught off an under-edge by the scooping gloves of Bairstow, Curran’s fifth wicket of a breakthrough Test match – 63-4 but the captain still there. The experience of Ashwin was favoured over the nervousness of Dinesh Karthik or the panache of Hardik Pandya at Six – with lights on and England’s bowlers finding movement in the air and off the seam, it was a fierce examination of technique and temperament.

But Ashwin is only a middle order bat in subcontinental conditions, not in the heavy air and cloudy skies of England – and certainly not against a perfectly pitched Anderson outswinger – 78-5. It was as tough as batting gets, the English equivalent of dealing with a raging fifth day turner in humid Chennai heat with men around the bat. Great players exploit such conditions – all-time greats resist them.

Dinesh Karthik joined his extraordinary captain and India nudged the runs required into double figures. Root was demanding every last drop of energy from his bowlers and they were giving it, the 36 year-old Anderson walking ever more slowly back to his mark.

Towards the end of a three hour long session, some of the intensity inevitably went out of the tiring bowlers, but credit goes to the nonpareil Kohli (43) and a battling Karthik (18) for their resistance in an unbroken stand of 32. India closed needing 84 more for the win, England needing five wickets. And it’s fair to say that one of those was very much more needed than the other four.




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