That we were able to witness any cricket today, a few days after the cyclone that hit Chennai so badly, is of true credit to the ground staff and no little luck that the pitch itself wasn’t badly damaged during the storm.
As for the game itself, I think even the most one-eyed and optimistic of England fans would’ve struggled to build up their hopes of an England victory in this Test on what has proved to be a chastening tour for the tourists. This coupled with the fact that England have proved time and time again that we simply don’t do dead rubbers, certainly led to fear that the players, with their minds on returning to England, would simply collapse in a heap at the hands of a strong Indian batting and bowling attack. That we head into Day 2 marginally ahead of the hosts, is something most of us would’ve taken happily when we woke up this morning.
England won the toss and chose to bat on what looked a like a fairly slow, low and placid wicket. The fact that Cook has won 4 out of 5 tosses on this tour, simply negates any excuses around ‘win the toss, win the game’ that members of the touring party and media occasionally like to trot out, we simply haven’t bowled or batted well enough, end of story. Both teams made 2 changes to their teams with Woakes and Anderson being replaced by Broad and surely the new one cap wonder Liam Dawson for England and Sharma and Mishra coming in for India replacing Kumar and the unlucky Yadav, who surely must have had an injury to be left out after his performance in Mumbai.
Indeed it was Sharma who struck first getting Jennings to play an ill advised waft outside off stump before Jadeja once again snared his bunny Alastair Cook, with a delivery that went straight on. I naturally warned caution in my review of Day 1 of the last Test around hailing Jennings as the answer to England’s top order challenges, as one swallow does not make a summer and he has struggled in the last couple of innings with two failures. I would certainly give him the summer to prove himself as I personally think that it takes at least seven Test’s to fully merit judgment on a player’s suitability for Test cricket and with Jennings potentially coming in at first drop this would then allow us to move Root back to number 4, which I still think is his best position. I for one, have never understood this macho ‘you’re best players needs to play at number 3’ malarkey, I would simply let them bat where they feel most comfortable and build a batting line up around them.
So with both openers back in the shed early and an impending feeling of doom for those that had roused themselves at 4am to watch the game live (I wasn’t one of them), England set about the rebuilding job to try and allow themselves to have a chance in the Test. Root played a typical Root innings, in that he didn’t seem to be in any trouble during the whole innings before getting out. Root is without doubt, England’s best batsman, with the range of stroke play to be effective on any type of wicket and has a beautiful knack of being 25 not out before you even realise. However the one aspect of Root’s game that frustrates us and I know massively frustrates him is the relatively poor conversion rate from 50’s to 100’s. Once again today, he did all the hard work, played some sumptuous shots including a very effective slog sweep and looked completely in control before he got out under-edging an attempted sweep off Jadeja. Yes many could say it was slightly unlucky and it is probably was, but if Root rightly wants to be regarded as one of the top batsmen in world cricket, then he needs to find a way of converting these 70’s & 80’s into big hundreds, ones that in turn win matches for England. This is what Kohli has done for India over the past 18 months and this is what Smith is doing for Australia, so in turn this is what England need Root to do for England. Who knows, perhaps the captaincy might allow him to kick on with this respect.
As for Moeen, it was a tale of two halves once again. He looked all at sea when he first came in and should really have been caught on 0, in fact it was a minor miracle that he survived until lunch. However after lunch, he looked a completely different player. We all know that he is likely to give the opposition a chance, that he likes to drive in the air and that he likes to use his feet to the spinners, but no-one can deny, there is certain thrill in watching him bat. The languid cover drives, beautiful on drives and dancing down the pitch to the spinners were all in splendid view today and he scored a vitally important hundred to give England sufficient hope of putting on a big first innings score. Whether he is the long term answer to our middle class travails, that I’m not so sure about; however he has scored over 1,000 runs this year at an average of 45, so there is definitely hope that he can kick on and continue to make runs with more consistency than we have seen before. Of course, a settled position in the side might help Moeen, but as we have seen the only consistency that England have employed over the past two years is the staunchest of defence of their captain.
With Moeen and Bairstow at the crease and the ball doing very little, England seemed to building towards a strong position on Day 1. It can be argued that Bairstow gave his wicket away with a lack of concentration and a rash shot and without doubt he was furious with himself for losing his wicket; however one also has to give Kohli and Jadeja some credit with coming up with a plan to get Bairstow driving with a short cover waiting for the catch, which duly came. The ploy wasn’t exactly subtle, but it did show that the Indian captain was willing to try different things when the ball wasn’t do anything off the pitch and not willing to just let the game drift. Something that many of us agree that the England captain could learn a thing or two about.
So we go into Day 2, with the score on 288-4 and surely the aim needs to be to press on to around the 500 mark, to give ourselves a fighting chance in this game. The Chennai pitch looks pretty placid and slow with even Ashwin struggling to get any purchase out of the pitch, which does not bode well for our spinners (oh to have a fit and well Panesar in this team, as this seems to be the type of pitch where you get some reward by fizzing the ball off it). This coupled with the fact that India have Kohli and a batting line up who are all seeing the cricket ball like a football at the moment, therefore anything less than a score of 500 from England could easily see a repeat of the Mumbai Test, as the Indian batsmen make hay whilst the sun shines.
England have batted well today and have at least shown some fight in this dead rubber, but they are going to have to do the same again tomorrow to make a proper game of this.
Day 2 thoughts and comments below: