England vs India: 3rd Test, Day One – Resurrection Joe

Cricket is a bloody weird game. Virat Kohli couldn’t win a toss, India’s tail-enders were smashing the England bowlers around the park, England (bar the captain) were unable to determine which end of the bat is which, and more of the same was due today. Except it didn’t happen. None of it happened. Instead we got a day of total English domination, and an India team in need of a something approaching a sporting miracle to get away with anything other than a defeat. After one day. The usual rules about not tempting fate applied to the eternally pessimistic England fans, but more than anything, as many were quick to note, this was most similar to the opening day of the Melbourne 2010 Test match, with the difference that here India chose to bat.

India’s batting hasn’t looked that hot in the series so far, but crumbling to 78 all out wasn’t on the agenda. Cue lots of complaining from the sub-continent about the pitch, which would have been a fair point had England not coasted past their total in the evening sunshine with all wickets standing. It was cloudy, there was some swing and some seam, but hardly excessive, and by Headingley standards, relatively tame. Though the injured Stuart Broad was quick to point out in the morning that it tends to get better for batting and that choosing to bat was a brave call. There’s a fair degree of mind-games in that of course, and it seems unlikely that Root would have sent India in had he called correctly. Cliches always abound in such circumstances, but “a good toss to lose” may well be a reasonable assessment.

In the morning session Anderson operated on that serene higher level that he can sometimes reach, especially at home. There are endless banal superlatives that can be applied to him, but at 39 years old and still able to crank it up to the mid eighties miles per hour (this perhaps is the most remarkable thing about him – his skill won’t wane, but his athleticism will) and with all the nous of a 20 year career, he was far above the level of any of his team-mates, and ripped out the heart of the India batting. He’s just someone to be enjoyed.

Four down at lunch, India had the chance to recover if they batted well, but if the morning had been about an exceptional Anderson, the afternoon was about some pretty ropey batting. Rishab Pant played a really poor shot, and then four wickets in six balls destroyed the innings entirely, kicked off by a shocker from Rohit Sharma.

Nothing gives a batting order quite so much confidence as knowing you’ve skittled the opposition for peanuts; nothing makes a bowling attack less incisive than knowing you’ve barely any runs to defend. Ishant Sharma hardly helped things with a dire first over of no balls, wides and boundaries, and the tone was set. Burns and Hameed batted with confidence and some panache at times, but you could almost see the hope draining out of the Indian team, as fielding errors were made and catches dropped. In the time honoured style of a side in trouble, India tried to get the ball changed, and eventually succeeded, only for Burns to pull it into the stands for a rare six. If ever a metaphor for how bad a day India have had was needed, there it was. Both Burns and Hameed passed fifty, in the case of the latter in particular, a welcome return to Test runs. Few will be anything other than delighted for him.

Oh yes. Over-rate. Again. It’s doubtful many of the crowd felt shortchanged by once again falling far short of the required 90 overs, and equally India are hardly going to hurry given the match position. But it’s now routine not to bowl the minimum mandated overs and nothing is ever done about it. Today won’t matter, hell, it probably won’t matter in this match, but it’s situation normal these days.

India need to have an exceptional morning tomorrow just to recover the situation to one of being in deep trouble. If they could bowl England out for another hundred or so, then just maybe they could turn it around. But that would still require an exceptional 2nd innings on their part. India might win every remaining day and still lose the game heavily. One day into this match, and England are closing on a win. Final point: The Hundred wasn’t the reason for England’s capitulation in the 2nd Test, and today doesn’t mean that the structure of the domestic game isn’t damaging the Test side. It’s not that hard to avoid kneejerk reactions, but too hard for some even so.