As a holder of a ticket for the 4th Day at the Oval, I was somewhat worried yesterday that my chances of seeing a decent amount of live play weren’t looking great. Oh how wrong I was. India were superb and dominated a tired and undisciplined England attack, the first over with the new ball excepted and have put themselves in a strong position to go 2-1 up in the series, barring a remarkable 2nd innings with the bat from England.
The day seemed set up for bowling with cloudy overhead conditions and a bowling line up used to get prodigious swing in English conditions. Of course, none of that happened, the seam bowlers whilst generally being economical posed little threat and the swing that we were hoping to see never materialised. As a former bowler, it still interests me how overhead conditions can be so different at different grounds with regard to how the ball behaves and how sometimes a ball will do nothing, then get replaced by another ball after the captain has complained so much and got it replaced and then that ball will suddenly start hooping. An interesting titbit, I read on Twitter (thanks TLG) is that an Indian NASA scientist once did a paper trying to explain reverse swing. It intrigued them so much they ended up supporting the whole project. Long story short was they couldn’t fully work it out. Now if NASA can’t work out why a ball will or will not swing and sometimes reverse, then I think us mere mortals don’t stand a chance. Whatever it was today, be it the pitch, the outfield, or the ball, it simply didn’t swing and hence England’s bowlers looked pretty innocuous on a day where we hoped they could dominate.
That all being said, both Pujara and Rohit batted beautifully, with the latter recording his first century on foreign soil. Both were circumspect in their defence but equally adept at putting away anything loose from the English bowlers, which unfortunately there was a fair amount of. I always thought of Rohit as a one-day player and have memories of him coming in down the order in his early days of Test cricket and struggling. He has obviously worked massively hard at his red ball game, and it has absolutely paid off. Apart from Joe Root, who has had a quite breath-taking series with the bat, Rohit has probably looked the next most assured at the crease. Pujara also looks a different player in the 2nd innings compared to what he does in the first innings and despite being hampered with an ankle injury, played a fluent knock that took the pressure off of Rohit at the other end. Indeed it was a surprise when both departed off consecutive balls of the first over of the new ball, with Rohit mistiming a pull straight down the throat of Chris Woakes and then Pujara nicking one onto his pads that was taken in the slip cordon. Speaking of which, it was another chastening day for Rory Burns, who after dropping Rohit on 6 last night (well he technically didn’t get a hand on it), then dropped Rohit today on 31. It was no means a dolly but those are the sort of chances that you have to take to win Test matches. Quite frankly you could have a cardboard cut out of Alastair Cook in the slips and it would probably have the same chance of catching an edge as Rory Burns.
As for the England bowlers, the quicks looked leggy in what was a placid pitch with 2 set batsmen in. No-one bowled terribly, but there wasn’t really any stage where they looked at all threatening. One might be entitled to answer the question why a 39-year Jimmy Anderson has been picked in 4 consecutive Test matches as there is no doubt that both he and Robinson look like they are getting close to the red zone where bowlers start to break down. I also felt that Woakes, playing his first Test match in a year and recovering from injury, understandably looked a bit short on stamina. If the quicks were tidy without looking too menacing, the same sadly can’t be said for our spinner. I genuinely don’t like to have a pop at Moeen, as he is clearly a classy individual on and off the pitch, but his bowling today as it quite often can be, was at best buffet bowling. Moeen is the classic jack of all trades and master of none, as his brain-dead dismissal yesterday evening showed. Today he was unable to maintain a line or length that could restrict the Indian batsmen and for Root, trying to set a field for him must have felt like trying to put out the Great Crystal Palace fire with a leaky bucket. I like Moeen and think he should be a fixture in the white ball teams, but with Woakes perfectly capable of batting at 7, then there is no need to carry on with the clearly flawed Moeen experiment. After all, there is a spinner that England have chosen not to pick this Summer with a record of 40 2nd innings wickets at an average of 21 during his Test career. I said it at the start of the series and will say it again that Jack Leach should be one of the first names on the team sheet and his continued omission strikes of something a little sinister from Silverwood and Root.
I’m not sure who has tomorrow as I will be frequenting the Oval, but as ever thoughts on the game below are very much appreciated.