India belied hopes of seizing early advantage on the first day of their five-match Test series against England on Wednesday (Day 1 live blog), dropping catches and failing to apply pressure after skipper Virat Kohli failed to win the toss for the first time in eight Tests at home.
That gave a dream start to England in what is expected to be a well-fought series, far beyond what the most optimistic person in the visitors’ camp would have hoped for on Day One of the Rajkot Test. Skipper Alastair Cook did his team a massive favour by winning the toss. It allowed his batsmen to cash in on the best pitch conditions at the Saurashtra Cricket Association ground. Their spinners will also have the advantage of bowling last on a wearing wicket.
After an early wobble, Cook has to thank his deputy Joe Root (124 runs) and Moeen Ali (99 batting) for putting England in a position of strength. Riding on their brilliant fourth wicket partnership, England reached 311 for four at stumps.
India had their chances early in the morning when speedsters Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav bowled with fire. But inept slip catching, where the hosts floored three chances, allowed England to consolidate. An edgy Cook was reprieved on nought off Shami, Ajinkya Rahane grassing a regulation catch at third slip.
The left-handed opener was having a torrid time – feet were not moving and he was playing away from the body. In the next over, he again jabbed, this time edging Umesh Yadav to second slip but Virat Kohli couldn’t convert the difficult chance.
In the sixth over, Yadav saw another chance go abegging when Murali Vijay got both hands to debutant Haseeb Hameed’s edge but couldn’t hold on. Hameed was on 13, and went on to make 31.
India’s lethargic effort on the field continued in the afternoon. Cheteshwar Pujara at short-leg was slow to react to a jab by Moeen Ali. On 53 then, the left-handed batsman made India pay by holding the England innings together until stumps.
India would have been in even more trouble had the umpire not given Umesh Yadav the benefit of doubt after his catch off Root on the follow through. The bowler had started to celebrate too early, creating a doubt whether he was in control of the catch. The breakthrough came on the fifth ball of the 81st over.
India sprang a surprise by playing three spinners. The logic was that on a good wicket, they would need an extra bowler to share the workload. Thus, Amit Mishra got the nod ahead of Hardik Pandya and Karun Nair.
Mishra, however, had an off day. He was especially ineffective against Root and Moeen - England’s fourth-wicket pair toyed with his bowling.
It says a lot when the other two spinners, Ashwin and Jadeja, shared more than 50 overs, but skipper Virat Kohli used his leg spinner only for 10 overs. Mishra will need a really strong performance in the remainder of the game to make up.
PRESSURE ON INDIA
For once, Kohli’s marshalling of the troops too was not up to the mark. He failed to apply pressure after lunch when the momentum was with him, having taken three wickets. The new batsman Moeen could have been targeted.
To add to India’s misery, Shami picked up a hamstring injury just after lunch. He returned after receiving treatment but was clearly struggling and needed regular treatment.
The pressure will be on the Indian spinners on the second day as England bat really deep. Ashwin will have to come up with a better plan against Moeen, who has been joined by another left-hander Ben Stokes. If England get to their target of 500, the Indian batsmen’s first concern will be to make the game safe.