Sport is dominated by an almost slavish devotion to ‘conventional wisdom’. The reason seems fairly clear: No one ever got fired as a coach or captain for making the same choices as the majority of fans and your predecessors did. Any decisions which goes against the status quo, of how things are done, are always seen as a risk where you alone bear responsibility for the consequences. The overwhelming consensus was that everyone bats first at the Oval, given the choice, but Joe Root instead opted to field first. And, if you look at how today went, he was right to do so.
Which isn’t to say the day went wholly England’s way. The first half hour was very quiet, with India’s openers seemingly handling Anderson and Robinson with ease. At that point, several people were already starting to question Root’s decision to bat first. It wasn’t until Woakes replaced Anderson that the ball really started swinging (not something you often say about Anderson) and the Indian batters started struggling. India’s top three fell in just a few overs leading India to take the unusual position of promoting their typical number seven, Ravindra Jadeja, to five. There was speculation from the commentators that this was to disrupt England’s bowling with a left-right batting partnership, whilst people online joked that he was acting as a nightwatchman whose job was to protect Kohli and Rahane from the swinging ball. Of the two theories, I think I might favour the latter. He certainly seemed to be farming the strike away from Virat Kohli, which is another thing I wasn’t expecting to write at the start of the day.
The afternoon session began with Joe Root dropping a sharp chance at first slip, which was something of a theme for the day. England dropped the ball four times in the innings, adding perhaps another fifty runs onto India’s total. It doesn’t seem like much in that context, just over ten runs per drop, but this match has all the hallmarks of a low-scoring contest where every run counts. Gifting runs, and more time in the middle for Virat Kohli to rediscover his form, is not something which should be tolerated by England. Kohli and Rahane batted out most of the session, before a burst of wickets blew through the Indian middle order and exposed their long and fragile tail. And Shardul Thakur.
Sometimes in cricket, one batter just seems to be playing a different game altogether from his teammates. Joe Root has been one obvious example for most of this year. Shadul Thakur is a less obvious example, but his innings was certainly immense fun to watch. The bowler scored 57 runs from just 36 deliveries, which would be impressively quick score for a number eight in a T20. He just absolutely smashed it/edged it everywhere. I mean, I’m an England supporter but I can’t imagine many people didn’t enjoy watching it. Apart from England’s bowlers, I guess. Chris Woakes eventually managed to trap Thakur lbw, and England uncharacteristically managed to quickly dismiss the rest of the tailenders which left the tourists on a score of 191 all out.
Chris Woakes was one of two changes in this England side, replacing Sam Curran. With all due respect, this has made England’s bowling unit significantly better. Woakes outbowled Jimmy Anderson today. That’s just impressive. Curran didn’t perform well in this series with either bat or ball, and seemingly got picked based on his form in 2018 and the absence of any pace-bowling allrounders to replace him.
If Thakur’s cameo was a surprise, England’s response was anything but. Burns and Hameed scored just 6 runs between them before both being dismissed, exposing the middle order to the new ball yet again. This is the fifth time this year that Joe Root has come out with less than ten runs on the board. England lost three of those matches to India, and went on to win the game against Sri Lanka after Root scored 186. Unfortunately for England, that isn’t going to happen this time. Umesh Yadav bowled Root through the gate just before the close of play, with the hosts finishing the day on 53-3.
The match seems finely balanced, with two strong bowling attacks facing up against two brittle batting lineups. With Root already gone, it’s difficult to see this England team putting up a score above 300 and dominating. It’s good news for neutrals, keeping both sides in the game throughout. Less so for anyone who bought tickets for Day 4. Sorry Sean.
The teams were nine overs short today. You would think that would mostly be the fault of England, since they spent most of the day in the field and didn’t bowl a single over of spin. It seems clear that teams still aren’t taking over rates seriously, and the threat of losing World Test Championship points isn’t working even after Australia lost out on a chance to be in this year’s final due to such a deduction. Something has to change, but there seemingly isn’t any will within the ICC to do anything about it.
If you have any thoughts on the day’s play, or anything else that sparks your interest, post them below.