India vs England: England go from dust to dust in two days against India

Published on Feb 26, 2021 12:09 AM IST

On a crumbling and dusty pitch in the day-night Test, where the pink orb looked like it had transformed into a magical object with a life of its own, anything looked possible. And it was.

India beat England in the third Test by 10 wickets(BCCI)
India beat England in the third Test by 10 wickets(BCCI)

Crazy. Nuts. Bizarre. Freakish. Kooky. Wacky. You could pick any these words to describe what unfolded here on Thursday, and you would be right.

On a crumbling and dusty pitch in the day-night Test, where the pink orb looked like it had transformed into a magical object with a life of its own, anything looked possible. And it was.

Even an innings win for India with just a 33-run lead against England. It almost happened. Or an England renaissance led by Joe Root. With the ball. It actually happened. Playing his 102nd Test, the England captain and part-time spinner picked up the first fifer of his career.

Or Ishant Sharma hitting a six for the first time in his 194-match international career after facing 2677 balls. That happened.

Or a two-Test old backup spinner, Axar Patel, picking his third successive five-wicket haul in as many innings, while a 77-Test spin veteran, R Ashwin, becoming the second-fastest player to 400 Test wickets.

But here’s the wackiest thing that happened: a Test match was won in two days with just 140.2 overs bowled in total, the shortest completed Test since 1935.

If India lost seven wickets for 46 runs in the first session, England lost 10 for 81 (their lowest score ever against India) in the second.

Ashwin and Patel both claimed a wicket with the first ball of the innings, Ashwin in England’s first and Patel in the second.

The ball turned viciously, skidded with malicious intent, spat off the pitch like a uppercut and kicked up dust storms.

By the end of it, it was hard to make sense of the proceedings.

It all meant that that the first Test at the Narendra Modi Stadium would go down in the record books as the shortest-ever Test (842 balls) in India.

Pitch in question

The dusty pitch at the brand new Stadium will definitely be in question after crumbling in less than two days. Ahead of the Test, Rohit Sharma had said it was well within their rights to have home advantage and Joe Root had agreed.

Taking home advantage meant shaving off the grass on the pitch gradually in the lead up to the Test. By the time the toss happened, the India camp read the conditions so well that they played three spinners for the day-night affair. Left-armer Patel was introduced in the seventh over of first day for the pink ball match.

While there was dust in the landing area right from the first session and the balled turned as well, under the hot Ahmedabad sun it dried further on the second day. It meant spinners took control and turned the ball across at will. They took 28 out of the 30 wickets that fell on Day 2. In fact, no pacers were used at all in the second innings by either team.

“Bumrah said I am getting work load management while playing. Ishant said I am playing my 100th game and still don’t get to bowl,” Virat Kohli joked later.

Batsmen’s tactics

While the pitch will again become the primary talking point in this series, the tactics of the batsmen need scrutiny too.

Barring Rohit Sharma in the first innings, when he scored 66 to give India a crucial lead, none of the other batsmen showed the control and approach required on a spin-friendly pitch. No one came forward to negate the turn. They stayed back and waited—like Zak Crawley, who completely misread Patel’s line to get bowled in the first ball of the innings. A ball later, Jonny Bairstow tried a desperate, blind sweep and was given out LBW before he was saved by the review. The next ball he stepped forward and the ball went through bat and pad and crashed into his stumps. It was a template for how England lost their wickets. Just press repeat.

“There was lack of application from both sides,” Kohli said after the match. “I have never been part of a Test that ended so quickly. It was just the odd ball turning and it was a good wicket to bat in the first innings. It was bizarre that 21 of the 30 wickets fell to straight balls. Test cricket is about trusting your defence.”

The day started in whirlwind fashion.

Left-armer Jack Leach provided early openings, first by skidding one on to the pads of Ajinkya Rahane and then spinning another in to beat Rohit, who missed the line in an attempt to sweep.

The danger man in these situations is Rishabh Pant. A desperate Root brought himself on in place of James Anderson and there was no looking back.

First delivery, Root tossed the ball up to lure Pant forward. The spin on offer did the rest as the ball kissed the outside edge and Ben Foakes took a smart catch. A few overs later, Root ripped out another sharp turner that accounted for Washington Sundar. Two balls later, he had Axar Patel. At that point, Root had three wickets without conceding a single run. He would finish with figures of 5/8. Root maintained a tight length, found the roughs and spun the ball to leave India befuddled. But for boundaries from Ashwin and Ishant, India did not look like taking a lead of more than 10.

When India’s first innings folded for 145, England sniffed a chance.

It was snubbed out before they could complete a breath. After Patel had taken two wickets in his first over, there was no stopping the flood. Between him and Ashwin, they picked up nine wickets for just 80 runs. Sundar did not even have to complete his solitary over for his wicket.

Rohit and Shubman Gill got to the target of 49 in under 8 overs without any fuss.

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    Abhishek Paul works with the Hindustan Times’ sports desk. He has been covering the beat since 2010 across print and digital mediums.

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