RAJKOT:Batting and bowling in conditions aiding spin dominated talks in the build-up to the series. If the aspect of fielding went unnoticed, it was India’s turn to find out how important it is. With due credit to Joe Root and Moeen Ali, a butter-fingered slip cordon let the hosts down on Day 1 of the first Test.
It can be argued that the beneficiaries of reprieves aggregated 52 in the eventual tally of 311/4. What it actually meant was instead of being two down by the sixth over, England lost their second wicket in the 27th. It had two effects. Rather than being upbeat with early success, the fast bowlers felt let down. And instead of taking on the new ball, the middle order came in to bat when it was difficult to make it talk on a track good for batting.
It’s easy to blame bowlers when the opposition scores at nearly 3.5 per over. To be fair, they did reasonably without getting much from the surface. Things were delicately poised at 102/3, as one more could have swung things India’s way. That’s when Root’s class and Moeen’s doggedness came to the fore and left the Indians thinking what could have been.
There was a fair amount of catching practice going on when they trained a day before the match. It didn’t make things perfect as Ajinkya Rahane at gully dropped a sitter from Alastair Cook off the third ball of the day bowled by Mohammed Shami. Before the disappointment was gone, Murali Vijay at first slip floored a low but catchable one offered by debutant Haseeb Hameed off Umesh Yadav. There were other edges that didn’t carry, but went through the ring of fielders behind the wicket. “Irrespective of conditions, there is always something for bowlers in the first session. The dropped catches didn’t allow us to make early dents in their batting and set us back. Credit to England’s batsmen for making full use of good batting conditions, but we missed a chance to take quick wickets and expose their middle order early on,” said India’s batting coach Sanjay Bangar.
Even though the openers failed to capitalise and Ben Duckett couldn’t justify coming in at No 4, Root and Moeen defied India for 48.2 overs. There was a half chance offered by Moeen off Ravichandran Ashwin that went through the legs of Cheteshwar Pujara at short-leg. Other than some probing by Yadav with the old ball, the left-right combination was by and large untroubled. Cautious without getting bogged down, this approach made sure the advantage of winning the toss wasn’t lost.
“We showed them respect without looking at records and played according to what was bowled to us. The plan was to stay solid in defence, use both sides of the wicket and make things hard for the bowlers. It wasn’t easy, as surroundings are difficult for us. Now that we are in a good position, it will give us a lot of confidence going ahead in the series,” said Root after notching up an 11th century in his 49th Test.
Early wickets on Day 2 can bring India back and they can also take confidence from the way Root and Moeen went about their job. But batting after conceding a big total means pressure and if the pitch offers assistance to bowlers later on, it could become a battle for survival. “There’s a bit of variable bounce, which suggests it might deteriorate later on. Our seamers will look forward to it if we can give them a big total,” felt Root. The dropped catches will come back to haunt India if that happens.