Joe Root delivers masterclass as Indian bowlers wilt
Jasprit Bumrah gently reminded the entrenched Joe Root and new batsman Ben Stokes early in the morning that even on a slow pitch, England could not rule out an Indian bowling fightback. Two yorkers, both from Bumrah, conveyed that to the batsmen.
The first, delivered from around the stumps, swung into Stokes, who kept it out. The other left Root a touch uncertain. The response though was the same on both occasions--boundaries off the next delivery. It was a theme that played out through the second day of the first Test at the MA Chidambaram Stadium on Saturday.
Each time India created chances, which were rare in the first two sessions, or hinted at tightening things, the two England batsmen broke free with strokeplay. Stokes, in particular, upset the bowling rhythm with his aggression until he fell for a 118-ball 82 (10x4, 3x6), missing his century.
Root recovered from overnight cramp as he dipped into rich reserves of energy, completing his maiden double century against India with a six over long on off Ravichandran Ashwin. It was his second double century in a fortnight, the first by an overseas batsman in India since Brendon McCullum’s 225 in 2010.
Root’s marathon knock lasted four minutes short of nine hours (377 balls, 19x4, 2x6). He is the first to score a double hundred in his 100th Test. Root is also the only Test captain other than Don Bradman to score 150-plus in three consecutive matches.
The grand effort ensured England finished the second day on 555/8. Root’s Day 1 wish to put up a 600-plus total still looks achievable with Dom Bess (28*) and Jack Leach (6*) having raised 30 for the ninth wicket.
The desperation of Kohli and Co for a dismissal led to India losing all three reviews an hour before tea—against Stokes, Root and Ollie Pope. That meant when a couple of close calls from Washington Sundar and Ishant Sharma were turned down by the umpire—Jos Buttler’s clear nick was also turned down—in the last session, it only added to the frustration in the Indian camp.
Bumrah delivered yorkers and slower ones, Ishant got the ball to swing and angled in a few to Root’s discomfort while Ashwin kept going all day (he has bowled 50 overs in two days). Though the foot marks seemed to be producing variable bounce, breakthroughs were hard to come. Even Rohit Sharma rolled his arm over before tea.
India though were guilty of putting down chances. Ashwin dropped Stokes off his bowling to his right and the left-hander got another reprieve when Cheteshwar Pujara, leaping full stretch, could not hold on to the chance off Shahbaz Nadeem. Rohit Sharma dropped a sitter from Bess close to stumps.
Only in the last session, with Root falling leg before to Nadeem, and Ashwin trapping Pope did England batsmen look in any discomfort. A superb over from Ishant saw him rewarded for all the hard work. He got ball to reverse, hitting off-stump as Jos Buttler shaped to leave and cleaned up Jofra Archer the next ball. It left the fast bowler one short of the 300-wicket mark.
India bowling coach Bharat Arun, before play on Day 2, said the pitch had “foxed” the hosts into believing it would help the spinners. And it was hard grind for the bowlers again.
Perfectly paced knock
The England dressing room was relishing it though. Root swept his way through the first session and had looked set to carry on till the end of the day. Stokes brought pressure on the bowlers in the morning while Root stuck to his scoring pace.
Despite batting in all six sessions in the heat and humidity, Root never hesitated to rotate the strike. As Stokes, playing his first Test in six months, went hammer and tongs at the spinners, Root waited for the right opportunities to score. He played well back or lunged forward against the spinners and counter-attacked with a variety of sweep shots.
The tactic bore Root results in Sri Lanka, and it has worked wonders in India as his 644 runs in the three Tests show.
While Stokes rode his luck to score 82, Root was a picture of calm in his chanceless knock. Though Ishant got the ball to reverse and Bumrah threw everything in his arsenal, nothing seemed to click on a slow pitch. The left-right combination added to the difficulty, especially for the inexperienced Nadeem and Sundar.
Root the anchor
The scoring rate dipped a bit after Stokes miscued a slog-sweep against Nadeem and was caught by Pujara in the deep, but England’s batting depth ensured their plan to post a huge total never went off-track. After his 200-run stand with Dom Sibley on Friday, Root raised 124 and 86 with Stokes and Pope respectively.
“He (Root) makes us all feel pretty rubbish. How easy he makes his batting look. I was quite surprised he ran down the wicket and hacked a six to bring up the double. He is in phenomenal form, just making things very, very easy. I don’t think I have seen another England batsman play spin the way he does,” Stokes said in praise after the day’s play.
Despite batting out two days, England want to go on. “No thoughts of declaration. We want to get as many runs as possible here in India. If we can bat another hour tomorrow, we will be very happy,” Stokes said.
“I think the wickets in India don’t generally get better from here on, especially when the heat plays on it. It is going to get dry, break up, deteriorate. Just because we have scored big first innings runs doesn’t give us the right to bowl them out twice that we hope to do. We still have a lot of hard work to do as a bowling unit.”
Nadeem pointed out how difficult it was against Root. “Root has been in form of late. He is sweeping really well. So, to bowl to him you have to stay on the stumps. It becomes a problem when a batsman starts sweeping but at the same time you have to stick to your line and length and wait for batsman to make mistake.”