First with the bat, and now with the ball. England’s plethora of all rounders initially got them to at least some kind of score, and then today got them right into the game with the ball. By the time India passed England’s total with 9 wickets down, Sam Curran’s knock had become ever more important, and for India, Cheteshwar Pujara’s century was every bit as critical – though in his case, at least it could be said that it is his primary role in the side.
Moeen Ali was the star man for England, which always provides plenty of entertainment between those who think he’s under-appreciated, and those who point to his away record (not good) as a reason why he shouldn’t be anywhere near an England team. The problem is that both are correct, as far as it goes. Moeen at home has a very decent record indeed, Moeen away does not. Replacing him for away tours is a perfectly reasonable response to that, but there is always a peculiar belief that if done then England’s spinning options will dramatically improve, despite all the evidence to the contrary over the last ten years when discounting Graeme Swann. He bowled very well today, taking five wickets, which both suggested that England may have their hands full with Ravi Ashwin, and highlighted the oddity of England playing two spinners and then only giving Rashid seven overs. Two spinners often looks a luxury in England, and in this instance appears to be more about shoe-horning additional batting all rounders into the side than any expectation about the pitch. Still, it’s always possible the second innings will be more conducive to Rashid’s skills, though leg spinners do tend to need runs on the board to be most effective, something England have been singularly unable to provide recently.
Broad too bowled well, and tested all the batsmen, while Sam Curran was the one who snared the prize wicket of an oddly out of sorts Virat Kohli. But England used seven bowlers, including Keaton Jennings, who must have dearly wished for a bonus wicket to cheer himself up, and it looked overkill, with Stokes too just bowling the seven overs.
Of course, having bowling options is a wonderful thing, and particularly so when labouring in the field. It can absolutely be said that England have a pretty balanced attack, with only a real paceman missing from what ought to be a dream combination of seam, swing, left arm, off spin and leg spin. Whether the personnel are all good enough is a different matter of course.
India’s small lead would have been a disappointment at lunch, and a serious bonus shortly after tea, as this game swung wildly one way and then the other. A mid order collapse of England proportions followed by the tail providing immense support for Pujara when it had looked like England might gain the most unlikely of first innings advantages. Pujara himself batted beautifully, in conditions that slightly favoured the bowlers, though not to the extent that these teams appear determined to portray. His marshalling of the lower order eked out far more runs than it should have, to England’s frustration, but perhaps it should be looked at in terms of praise for him, Sharma and Bumrah rather than anything England did obviously wrong.
As to where this game is going, currently all the pressure is on England’s batsmen, faced with the infamous third innings tension in a tight game. Jennings and Cook deserve credit for coming through a tricky 20 minute spell unscathed, but the deficit is still there, and England will need to bat extremely well to set India a target where they’ll feel confident in bowling them out. For England to be warm favourites, they would need to set a target in excess of 250, and there isn’t too much confidence in the England batting order right now – at least not in the top order.
Jennings may well feel this is his last chance, while Cook’s declining returns have consistently left England a couple of wickets down early on. Either way, if both fail tomorrow England will be in deep trouble, and it’s been a fair old while since England’s openers have truly set a platform for the rest of the team. No time like tomorrow.
After two days, this is a competitive Test match, and may yet go on to be a truly absorbing one. But for that to happen England will have to exceed expectations and get into a position where they have at least the prospect of a win, and a series win. India may well be the more confident, and if they bowl well tomorrow, those with tickets for the fourth day could be cursing their luck once again. These are two brittle sides, and if low scoring matches are often the most exciting, when it happens repeatedly it merely highlights the flaws in the teams.
Nevertheless, a far better second day for England. Whether they can make it a good third day as well – that’s more open to question.