There comes a time in a while when Test cricket raises itself above results, strike rates, averages and it boils down to a mental battle between ball and bat. In front of an audience attuned to a decade of Twenty20 cricket, Alastair Cook and teenaged Haseeb Hameed bedded themselves on an unpredictable pitch where batting didn’t necessarily mean scoring. (Vizag Test: Day 2 Scorecard)
Both openers fell to the cause of batting out time, and as a result of their resilience, England have a chance of saving the second Test. (Vizag Test: Day 4 Highlights)
Jonny Bairstow had sounded ambitious on Saturday when he said the game could change if England could take four wickets in the morning. They ended up dismissing all seven in an extended session.
Stuart Broad bowled leg-cutters with the gumption needed to ignore a foot injury and took four wickets on a pitch that had variable bounce. Adil Rashid too bagged four wickets as India slumped to a total that just about met their target. Barring a captain’s knock of 81 from Virat Kohli, India’s batting had nothing to boast of. Yet they had every reason to feel on top by setting England a 405-run target, something that has never been achieved in India.
What unravelled in the next two sessions was batsmanship of the highest quality as Hameed and Cook put their heads down to deny India to the extent that they got impatient, wasted two reviews and even tried chatting up new batsman Joe Root.
By the end of the day, England crawled to 87/2 but this was never going to be the exciting run chase Kohli would have prayed for. Having played more five-Test series than India, England know that trying to chase such a total at this juncture would be as bad as shooting themselves in the foot.
Their objective was simple --- bat out five sessions with the aim of drawing the Test. Or as Broad put it later --- “slow down the game so that it doesn’t feel like climbing a mountain”. England could take a leaf out of Hashim Amla (25 off 244 balls), AB de Villiers (43 off 297) and even Faf du Plessis (10 off 97) who, faced with the impossible task of chasing 481 in the Delhi Test last year, came close to pulling off a draw.
It is tough. The first ball Hameed faced from Mohammed Shami, it reared up suddenly and he didn’t have time to back out. It hit Hameed hard but didn’t dent his confidence. Along with Cook, he indulged in a mind game that belied his age.
India threw everything they had at England. Umesh Yadav and Shami were given short spells. R Ashwin was bowled unchanged for 16 overs with Ravindra Jadeja playing his part with a better second spell. But for the two balls that finally got them, England openers looked sure about their stumps.
They either left the ball or played hard at it in defence or working the gaps for singles. After a long vigil, Cook was finally found out by Jadeja’s delivery that drew him across the stumps and forced him to play a slanted shot. Hameed was unlucky in getting a ball that stayed low.
Dismissed with strike rates (28.72 for Cook and 17.36 for Hameed) that could have had Cheteshwar Pujara facing selection trouble, the openers however know they have set up England for what could be a boring yet exciting fifth day.