Dom Bess spins it as India’s top-order tumbles
On the eve of the first Test against India in Chennai, Dom Bess declared his eagerness to bag Virat Kohli as one of his victims. “I will go loony, be running off!” he told Talk Sport, a UK radio station.
The 23-year-old from Devon, who took to off-spin because as an overweight kid he did not like running much, though didn’t go berserk when Kohli fell for his wide delivery, lunging forward to play for the turn and inside-edging to Ollie Pope at short leg shortly after lunch on Day 3. If he had gone crazy after picking the most prized Indian wicket, Bess would have been excused.
By the end of the day, aided by outstanding fielding efforts, he had also accounted for Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rishabh Pant.
His four-wicket haul came after Jofra Archer used his high-arm action, extra pace and bounce to breathe fire on a pitch that seemed lifeless on the first two days, rattling the Indian openers. The pincer attack from two youngsters on their maiden Test in India left the hosts on the back foot. At stumps, India reached 257/6, still trailing England by 321 runs.
England added 23 runs to their overnight score to reach 578 before their bowlers asserted themselves. Playing with just two spinners, England needed their speedsters to provide early momentum with the new ball. Archer and James Anderson provided enough of that.
Openers Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill, who looked in fine touch with his shot placements, fell to Archer. The tall pacer’s hit-the-deck style extracted extra bounce, and operating at around the 140kph mark, his leg-cutters kept them on the edge. It seemed he was bowling on a different deck to the one India’s pacers had operated on.
Maintaining a top-of-off-stump line, Archer first got Rohit Sharma, a tentative push against a rising delivery leading to an easy catch for wicketkeeper Jos Buttler. For his second wicket though, Archer should give credit to Anderson. Gill’s uppish on-drive to a delivery that was angled in was scooped up perfectly by the 38-year-old at mid-on.
It was an aspect that stood out through the day. The visitors converted the half chances to peg back their rivals, unlike India who dropped four catches with a stumping also missed in England’s marathon innings. The consistency with which Bess kept attacking on a pitch that is showing some wear and tear was complemented by the fielders.
The departure of the openers brought the most experienced Indian batsmen, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara together before lunch. They were expected to rescue the team, but the stand didn’t last long.
Bess’s classic off-break, with flight and dip, drew the batsmen forward. Kohli, who had not played a match since the Adelaide Test ended on December 19, looked edgy against Archer and saw one from Bess fall short of mid-wicket, before Pope held the inside edge.
That was followed by a stunning one-handed effort diving to his left by England captain Joe Root at short cover which sent Ajinkya Rahane back. He had stepped out to meet Bess’s full toss only for the ball to dip, and Root plucked it brilliantly.
“The Kohli dismissal was pretty special, I think more for the fact that what my process was. Of course, I was looking to get him out but it was not about bowling that magic ball. It was about switching in 10-15 balls in a good area and then something will happen. It’s that process of getting there. I kept him in a spot,” Bess said after play ended. “It’s certainly up there (in terms of top dismissals), the player that he is. I am 23 and want to keep going on. I don’t want to think on it too much.”
Within two overs India’s captain and vice-captain were back as India were reduced to 73/4. And a little less than three weeks after they had rescued India from a precarious position in the Brisbane Test, Pujara and Rishabh Pant were back leading the fightback.
Pant answered fire with fire. He took on left-arm spinner Jack Leach, who was trying to target the rough near the off-stump, with five sixes. With his power-packed shots, Pant took the pitch out of equation and raced towards his fourth half-century in five innings. At the other end, Pujara too played his shots, completing a patient half-century.
From 73/4 to 154/4 at tea, the partnership of the two most contrasting batsmen in this Indian batting line-up gave them some hope though they were more than 400 runs behind. Their 119-run stand off 145 balls was broken by Bess in a freakish dismissal. Pujara’s pull off a shorter ball from Bess ricocheted off short leg fielder Pope as he tried to duck and lobbed to Rory Burns at short mid-wicket.
With Pant continuing in the only way he can apply pressure, Bess needed to produce something special. Post Pujara’s dismissal, it had looked like he was struggling wiht his length to be hit by Pant. But Pant’s all-out aggression meant a chance always lurked. It came in the form of a mistimed lofted shot against wider delivery that was caught by Leach, who ran some distance from deep cover to get hold of it.
Though Washington Sundar and Ravichandran Ashwin stitched a 104-ball unbeaten 32-run stand after that, they will be under immense pressure on the fourth day.
“These two can certainly bat. We don’t want to look too forward. First we need to end the first innings and then we can take it from there,” Bess said. “Collectively we have taken six wickets today. It has started to spin. We are pretty close the second new ball, so we are in a great seat at the moment.”This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.