India bow to England spinners in battle of first innings | Cricket - Hindustan Times

India bow to England spinners in battle of first innings

Feb 24, 2024 05:38 PM IST

Off-spinner Shoaib Bashir runs through India’s batting order to put the visitors in control of the fourth Test at Ranchi on Day 2

Batting collapse doesn’t fully encapsulate what India have inflicted on themselves, sliding to 171/6 from 86/1. Consider it as the consequence of the hasty disintegration of India’s once vaunted middle order. It is rather inevitable. You just can’t replace Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara overnight. There is no alternative to their experience nor their method that produced truckloads of runs without going through the careers they have carved.

England's Shoaib Bashir (L) celebrates with teammates after the dismissal of India's Rajat Patidar during the second day of the fourth Test(AFP)
England's Shoaib Bashir (L) celebrates with teammates after the dismissal of India's Rajat Patidar during the second day of the fourth Test(AFP)

But by squandering the opportunity of making the most of a pitch that is slow but not exactly devious, against a spin attack that by all means is still low on experience, India may have let England a way back into this Test and series. Like the Hyderabad Test, once again it showed that India can buckle under the pressure of runs. And that if the first innings is in excess of 300, it can start to play mind games with the batters. The front foot play wasn’t always assured, neither was the calling for runs on some occasions. And sending Ravindra Jadeja ahead of Sarfaraz Khan — possibly because of his hundred at Rajkot — was probably not on as well. England have been exceptional and their bowling for this Test has been near perfect, but India’s inability to rough out a phase they knew would come has once again put their position in jeopardy. Dhruv Jurel has looked solid for his 30 but on 219/7 at stumps, 353 still looks well and truly out of reach.

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It looked attainable as long as Yashasvi Jaiswal batted with all grit and might. This was no chanceless 73, but the total worth of his innings far outweighed the half chances and a very close caught-behind appeal that England may pick on to gripe later. Rohit Sharma feeling for a good length James Anderson ball in the third over meant Jaiswal had to take charge of the innings earlier than he may have prepared for. And the start was a little scratchy too, almost edging Ollie Robinson to Zak Crawley at second slip in the next over but saved because he played with soft hands.

Shubman Gill was solid in his defence though and Jaiswal soon launched a fierce offensive in the face of incisive seam bowling from England. Fifth over, he first took on Anderson. As if a drive through mid-off wasn’t an emphatic response enough, Jaiswal made it look all the more majestic with a high elbow follow through. Next ball was too full and almost on his toes, prompting him to whip it behind square for another boundary. Robinson was occasionally making the ball hold its line when it didn’t leave Jaiswal, but in the 10th over he just relied on hand-eye coordination to drill the ball for a sumptuous four. One boundary led to another as Robinson overcorrected and Jaiswal flicked him through midwicket to bring the crowd to its feet.

Against spin Jaiswal looked more cautious but not in the 19th over when he skipped down the pitch and lifted Shoaib Bashir over mid-on for six. Next over, England thought they had their man when, against the run of play, Jaiswal poked at a leaving delivery from Robinson. With the ball dying on England wicketkeeper Ben Foakes, he lunged forward to take the catch, setting off a confident appeal but replays on referral showed the ball to be touching the ground, though Foakes looked sanguine it hadn’t.

It didn’t completely upend England’s plans. With Bashir getting consistent and sharp turn from the pitch, it was a matter of time till Gill missed one. He had still put in a pretty big stride when Bashir beat the inside edge first ball but replays showed he hadn’t got entirely outside the line, meaning the umpire’s call on impact held ground. That was the inroad Bashir needed before he ran through India’s middle order.

First to go was Rajat Patidar who failed to block a skidding delivery that crashed into his pad. Jadeja came out ahead of Khan and tempted with two massive sixes over long-on but Bashir ultimately had him by going around the wicket, cleverly using a wider angle to bowl a top spinner that caught a bat-pad before ballooning to Ollie Pope at forward short-leg for a simple catch.

But the biggest prize had to be Jaiswal’s wicket, and through an unfortunate dismissal too. This was a fractionally short delivery that Jaiswal wanted to play off the back foot but the ball didn’t rise much and hit the toe-end of his bat, bouncing back on to his stumps, leaving England in ecstasy. And when Khan was drawn into edging Tom Hartley to Joe Root who brilliantly held on to the catch at first slip five overs later, India knew they had conceded England a stranglehold over this Test.

Perhaps more demoralising was how England were allowed to dictate the first hour of the day despite India taking the second new ball in the first over itself. Robinson’s reverse sweep resulted in England’s innings folding up quickly, but till then he was the heart and soul of an entertaining riposte, hammering Akash Deep for three boundaries before sweeping Jadeja to reach his maiden Test fifty. Root finished as a sidebar, unbeaten on 122 but only England know how he has kept them alive in this series.

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    Somshuvra Laha is a sports journalist with over 11 years' experience writing on cricket, football and other sports. He has covered the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, the 2016 ICC World Twenty20, cricket tours of South Africa, West Indies and Bangladesh and the 2010 Commonwealth Games for Hindustan Times.

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