This particular Test has caused a mild outbreak of panic at BOC Towers, falling as it does during a period when all three of us are snowed under with work during what tends to be our busiest time of the year in our respective jobs. Add into that 4am start times, lots of travelling and full days and trying to keep abreast of goings on in Rajkot appear to be a little distant. In my own case, this week has been spent at World Travel Market at Excel, where international goings on allowed me to play a small joke on various colleagues on Wednesday morning: “Have you seen the news overnight? Isn’t it extraordinary?”, “Yes it is, I wonder how all the people on the American stands are feeling this morning”, “Oh I doubt they care too much, but 311-4 is a really impressive start”.
England’s 537 all out undoubtedly created scoreboard pressure, on a pitch that was felt likely to deteriorate, but India’s response has been one of outstanding batting and perhaps slightly disappointing bowling. The seamers have been tidy enough, without being especially threatening while the spinners have been short too often, and badly used in at least one instance. The stand between Vijay and Pujara was both essential and deeply impressive, slowly getting India back into the match, taking few risks and batting time. Having reached 277-1, what followed was something of a surprise, for England had shown few signs of being likely to take wickets, only to snare three in little more than an hour. If nothing else it was a reward for plugging away, and for keeping the scoring rate under control.
High scoring matches often appear to drift for large parts of a given day, as one side slowly claws their way towards parity and the other fruitlessly tries to stop them. It’s why low scoring matches tend to be consistently exciting throughout, whereas with ones like this the viewer can disappear for an hour or two and come back to see how little has changed in terms of the balance. The three late ones don’t exactly amount to a clatter, more of a gentle rattle, but they will have caused a frisson of anxiety in Indian ranks and raised the hopes of the English ones. The pitch so far hasn’t been a dead one by any means, and there is both spin available and some movement off the surface for the seamers and rather more in the air. It may be simply that both sides have batted well, it wouldn’t be the first time.
While Stokes removed the fluent Pujara, it was Adil Rashid who got the obdurate, yet intermittently attacking Murali Vijay with a delicious googly in his first over back just before the close. And here is where even Sky felt it reasonable to offer up some criticism of Cook (before Rashid took the wicket, note) for not making more use of him and going to him as the last possible option. It’s a criticism this blog has made repeatedly, and it’s not a matter of being wise after the event, it’s because there’s absolutely no point in having a leg-spinner if he’s not to be used as an offensive weapon. England’s plethora of all rounders frees up spaces for luxury players who can bring something different, and a leg spinner is about as different as it gets for an English team. Yes, he will go for runs, yes, he will be sometimes inconsistent. But he’ll also get you wickets, that’s the whole damn point. England have six frontline bowlers in this side, there are plenty of fall back positions should the leggie have a bad day – for him to bowl the fewest of any of the spinners on a pitch that is offering purchase is a waste of resource.
As for the wider question of where this game is going, as things stand the draw appears the favourite, but that is based on how the bat has dominated to date. The behaviour of the surface is going to dictate much, yet with few signs of radical change to date it’s perhaps wishful thinking to expect it to drive a result on its own over the next two days. India have plenty of batting still to come but are also a sizeable 218 runs still in arrears. Should they get remotely close then the pressure will transfer to England as they will be doing nothing other than playing for the draw with the time remaining, while even if they only add another hundred it’s hard to conclude that England would feel safe enough to declare until some time into day five assuming things went well. But perhaps given the kneejerk response to defeat in the last Test in Bangladesh, that’s still a position England should be pleased with. The old mantra that they are never quite as good or quite as bad as the press portray them is as true now as it ever was. All things considered, so far it’s quite even.
Day Four Comments Below