There was a lot of talk going into this Test from English fans and journalists about the pink ball favouring the away side in this game, or that the toss was the decisive factor in both of the previous games. Today, England have done their level best to disprove these theories quite thoroughly.
When you go to exchange team sheets with your opposite number and see that they have gone with three spinners whilst you have dropped one from the previous game, it can’t be a great feeling. Joe Root won the toss, which was almost the only thing which went England’s way all morning. It does bear saying that the toss has proven less important in day/night Tests than you might think. The current record for teams winning the toss is 8-7, and it’s also 8-7 in favour of teams batting first. Indeed, the only definitive pattern for games played with the pink ball is that they appear to massively favour the home side with only two losses in the fifteen played so far.
England made four changes to the side which lost in Chennai: Crawley, Bairstow, Archer and Anderson replacing Burns, Lawrence, Ali and Stone. Of these four, only Zak Crawley made a positive impact in today’s play, scoring a quick 53. To put that in context, the other top six batsmen scored a combined total of 24 runs.
Dom Sibley fell early, edging a ball from Ishant Sharma to second slip. Bairstow followed soon after with an lbw to the left arm spin of Axar Patel. It is a little embarassing when a batsman is brought in based on his batting against spin, only to fall for a nine-baall duck. Root managed to steady the ship with Crawley for a while but was trapped in front by Ashwin on 17, whilst Crawley suffered the same fate from Patel. England, having won the toss and chosen to bat, were 81/4 at the end of the first session.
It didn’t get any better after Tea (the 20-minute break being first in this Test) with England’s tail failing to wag or even twitch a little. England lost their last six wickets for just 32 runs, with spinners Patel and Ashwin just dominating the tourists. Pope and Stokes were both dismissed in the first two overs of the session, which left Ben Foakes and a long tail. When England replaced Moeen Ali (England’s top run scorer in the previous Test) with Jofra Archer, that left them with a number 8 who has a Test batting average of 8.00. That decision put a lot of pressure on their specialist batsmen to build a strong platform, and they obviously didn’t respond well to the challenge.
To be clear: This was not the pitch, nor was the pink ball to blame for England’s collapse. There has been spin in Ahmedabad, but without the variable bounce or ‘excessive’ sideways movement we saw in Chennai. The new ball swung, but probably less so than the Dukes ball does in England. It was good bowling by India, and poor batting from England. It’s that simple.
Broad almost claimed the wicket of Gill in the five overs before the second (Supper?) break, but was denied by the third umpire overturning an onfield call of a low catch in the slips. There was dismay from the England team and their fans, not just at the decision but also how that decision was made. First, it came very quickly. From the third umpire asking the director for a replay to his decision being made took less than 30 seconds. Second, and more importantly, he only looked at one front-on angle. It is a basic principle with low catches that you should attempt to view it from side-on where possible, because foreshortening often makes the ball appear lower than it actually is due to the viewing angle and the lenses used.
The commentary was quite forthright in supporting the third umpire’s decision, which was not a surprise. There were two Indian commentators on at the time, and they simply wouldn’t have a job if they didn’t wholeheartedly support an Indian umpire making a decision in favour of the Indian batsman. Of course, they were helped in their certainty by their Star Sports producer declining to show any different angles of the catch (or non-catch). Mark Butcher had been prepared to question things in the first two Tests, and might have prompted further examination, but he has been replaced by Graeme Swann. It’s tough to remember a worse decline in commentary standards in the span just one Test. I’ve been watching it on mute.
In the night session, both sides played what could best be described as as average cricket. India scored 99/3, which is almost up to England’s total with plenty of wickets in hand. The conditions didn’t seem as bowling-friendly as advertised, perhaps because of dew on the ground. It is my vague recollection from when I used to watch the IPL on ITV4 that the ball got damp at night, causing it to seam and spin less. England could have poached a few more wickets, had catches not been dropped and (perhaps) the third umpire had taken more than a cursory look at a stumping.
Ultimately, England’s disappointing first innings total means that there is very little pressure on the Indian batsmen, who I expect to bat for most of tomorrow and put this game beyond doubt. Somehow, despite spinners bowling 47 overs, the day finished 8 overs short. It probably won’t matter, as England seemed the culpable party (bowling just 33 overs in over two and a half hours), but both sides have a chance of qualifying for the World Test Championship final and a points deduction would both hurt them and help Australia. Surely no one wants to help Australia.
I was so looking forward to this Test too, with its reasonable hours and pink swinging balls. After England’s performance, and the prospect of more Swann commentary, I might just stay in bed all day.