Six wickets in a day usually doesn’t go in the win column after a day’s play. England would disagree though. Lest we forget, this is probably the most lopsidedly inexperienced English bowling attack to be touring India ever. And even though India didn’t exactly justify winning the toss, it doesn’t make the pitch any less of a batting paradise. Yet James Anderson got one wicket, Tom Hartley got one, while the debutant Shoaib Bashir and Rehan Ahmed picked up two wickets each. One more wicket, and England can hope to restrict India to under 400, a score their Bazball batters are perfectly capable of overrunning in three sessions.
Which only heightens the intrigue at the discipline with which England’s bowling conducted itself, respecting their limitations but not giving an inch to India. On one hand was Anderson, probing away tirelessly till something gave. And on the other hand were the other three specialist spinners trying to prey on vulnerabilities.
Like how Bashir trapped Rohit Sharma. First ball of his over, Sharma came down the pitch to defend. Next ball was tossed up so he clipped it towards square leg. But the third delivery was a flat quick off-break, pitching outside off and spinning in sharply. That he forced Sharma into glancing it half-heartedly despite the presence of a leg-slip was a big win for Bashir on debut. “To get Rohit Sharma out, my first wicket, feels incredible,” said Bashir later. “He’s a quality player, one of the best in the world and a great player of spin as well.”
What may be overlooked here is how Joe Root played his part in setting up Sharma for a fellow off-spinner. Sharma, no doubt, was looking to play defensive but Root made him retreat into a shell by playing around with the lengths and occasionally pushing the ball straighter and quicker. Fourteen overs without any wicket will not make the A-listers’ cut on any day but if you trace back to the cause of Sharma’s dismissal, Root will figure in it in some way. Ben Stokes is responsible for this elevation of role, making an allrounder out of Root.
“I did always say to Joe I thought he underbowled himself as captain, and when he walked off with four-fer I did say to him, “see, I told ya I’d make a bowler out of ya”,” Stokes had said ahead of this Test. “Having someone like that out here who is not only someone to throw the ball to and change the pace of the game up—he’s bowled me lots of overs, Joe has—then having him batting at four and the runs he’s scored and how important he is to us. To also have the benefit of Joe’s bowling out here is obviously massive.”
To stick to Hartley while giving a debut to Bashir despite his inexperience is a Stokes thing. As is the choice to go with three specialist spinners and a lone seamer, something India used to do not too long ago in home Tests. Match-altering though is Anderson’s selection, given Mark Wood hadn’t done anything wrong in Hyderabad.
But it’s such a no-brainer move—given Anderson’s established mastery over the older ball—that Hyderabad in hindsight feels like a big miss for England. Ten of the first 12 Anderson deliveries of the morning were faced by Yashasvi Jaiswal and he quickly understood the prudence in not engaging with the pace stalwart. At the close of play, Anderson to Jaiswal numbers read: 47 balls, 8 runs, six of which came off singles. That Jaiswal still ended with 179 means a win for him. At the same time, Shubman Gill could be regretting chasing a wide one from Anderson when he was looking really good after a very long time.
All this transpired on Day 1 alone, while it’s becoming clear India might have to bat again, most likely on Day 3. By then the bounce will become variable, odd balls will jump from length, footmarks will become craters and the pitch will become abrasive enough for Anderson to reverse the ball sooner than you know. Add to this the impeccable lines Anderson can bowl probably when he is asleep and England are very much in line to take this Test down to the wire.