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IND vs ENG 1st Test: Free falling at Trent Bridge

IND vs ENG 1st Test: Free falling at Trent Bridge, the vie

So dominant were the Indian pacers that Jos Buttler, England’s most natural stroke-player, resembled a cat on a hot tin roof during his 18-ball duck. His dismissal hastened a batting collapse that saw the hosts lose six wickets for 22 runs to go deeper in the mire. Twenty-three more runs were added for the last wicket, limiting abject capitulation, as England’s first innings folded for 183. In response, India batted for about an hour and finished the day on 21 for no loss.

The England middle-order was on a free fall, but Sam Curran’s presence gave a 2018 déjà vu feeling. Line and length from the Indian bowlers, however, were much better than what they had offered three years ago. England were swung out.

Mohammed Shami triggered the collapse with the wickets of Jonny Bairstow and Dan Lawrence inside four balls on either side of the tea break. The Nottingham sky became overcast and Jasprit Bumrah began to make the ball talk. He returned with four wickets and Shami bagged three. Shardul Thakur then removed Joe Root with a late reverse before making short work of Ollie Robinson. Save Root’s class, the England batting looked inept.

Masterstroke selection

From India’s point of view, Thakur’s contribution vindicated the team management’s decision. Midway into the second session, TV cameras panned on Ravichandran Ashwin sitting on the dressing-room balcony and having a conversation with bowling coach Bharat Arun. By then, #Ashwin was trending on social media.

India’s playing eleven sparked a debate. Arguably the world’s best finger-spinner was dropped to accommodate a fourth seamer, Thakur. The swinging conditions, aided by 10mm live grass on the pitch, demanded an extra fast bowler. India learnt from their World Test Championship (WTC) final mistakes and Thakur’s bend, besides his batting ability lower down the order, was preferred to Ashwin’s guile. The team’s only genuine allrounder, Ravindra Jadeja, was an automatic pick, as the conditions had a heavy bearing on the playing eleven.

Maybe, it was a good toss to lose for Virat Kohli, for like Root, he, too, wanted to bat first. The second half of the English summer hasn’t yet brought in a heatwave except for a few days of 30 degrees Celsius temperature. The first Test started in mellow sunshine and mercury hovering around 20 degrees. Trent Bridge opened the gates to usher in a full house but John Clarke, who didn’t miss a game at this venue for 40 years, was absent. Clarke passed away recently and his seat was kept vacant.

Bumrah dismissed Rory Burns in the very first over and looked sharp from the onset.

Against high-quality bowling, the challenge for the England batsmen was to get rid of the mental scars of a confidence-sapping series in India five months ago. From Chepauk to Trent Bridge via Motera, things didn’t change much.

Partial resistance

Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley saw off the first hour. Then, Rishabh Pant put his foot down and convinced his captain to go for a review, which ringed in Crawley’s end. A review was lost three balls previously and Kohli was reluctant to go for another. But Pant was insistent that Mohammed Siraj’s inswinger had kissed a piece of wood before reaching him. Crawley inside-edged the delivery and his wicket at the stroke of lunch tilted the first session in India’s favour. Sibley departed after the break, falling to a trap and offering a simple catch to Rahul at short mid-wicket off Shami.

Root’s 50th Test half-century was England’s only takeaway for England. He drove, cut, pulled and hooked with aplomb. Three consecutive fours off Siraj had the fans ratchet up the noise level. But the best piece of cricket came when he checked his shot at the last moment to a Shami delivery to ensure that the ball didn’t carry to the gully fielder. Root or bust; this has been England’s batting template of late.

Bairstow, like Crawley, stayed for a while, survived a run-out chance and added 72 runs with Root for the fourth wicket. That was the final—and only— piece of resistance the Indian seamers faced.

Brief Scores: England 183 in 65.4 overs (J Root 64; J Bumrah 4/46, M Shami 3/28) lead India 21/0 in 13 overs by 162 runs.

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