At around 2 pm, Mohammed Shami, after handing over the 61.1 over-old ball to the umpire, sank onto the field. He was seen grimacing every time he felt his right hamstring. The physio seemed worried. It wasn’t looking good. Around the time India usually calls upon their reverse swing expert, he was heading to the dressing room with an exaggerated limp. The ball before the injury had hung in the air that wee bit longer and darted in towards Joe Root. Had MS Dhoni been behind the stumps, he would have certainly shouted, “Ghoom raha hai, Shami, Ghoom raha hai.”
At that point in the game, reverse swing was India’s last resort, their final chance to redeem themselves on the first day of the series. With the new ball they had dropped catches. When it was semi-new, their spinners had lacked bite. Now the ball was old, the colour faded and leather flaky. Still the true Day 1 pitch wasn’t being friendly to spinners. There was no sharp turn, not one climbed from good length.
Shami, desperate to turn it around for India to get a breakthrough, was giving it his all. He seemed lining it up for that big toe-crusher. Like the trains that whistle through the swaying fields just behind the East Stand of this well-ventilated breezy stadium with a rural background, the Kolkata Express was steaming in across the greens. The sudden hamstring sprain pulled the chain and turned the game England’s way.
They would finish the day with a centurion, Joe Root (124), one almost there, Moeen Ali (99) and a sturdy total of 311/4. India playing three spinners and a couple of pacers on easily the best — make it the truest or, maybe, the most sporting — pitch under skipper Virat Kohli at home certainly missed Shami.
Pacers work best in pairs. Umesh Yadav would have learnt that old cricketing lesson today. He was incisive, sharp and had uncanny control over his reverse swing. However, he wasn’t deadly. Shami’s absence from the field, close to a couple of hours, spread on either side of tea, hurt India. It wasn’t a good omen, either. Zaheer Khan had walked away holding his hamstring on the first day of the India’s tour to England in 2011. Five years back, after he left the field at Lord’s, the Indian pace spearhead missed the entire series. Today, Shami did take the field in the final session, but bowled a few tepid overs. The word from the dressing room is that the pacer had cramps and an ice bath made him get rid of the limp. Though, it did seem tight as he ran in. “He is being monitored,” said bowling coach Sanjay Bangar.
Bangar, while summing up the day, also said that India should have picked at least a couple of more wickets and should have conceded 25 runs less. Maybe, if Shami had bowled during the 60 to 80 period, India would have fulfilled Bangar’s wish.
The mid-day mishap, Shami’s injury, wasn’t the only unexpected episode at Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium on Wednesday. After the previous night’s currency shocker and the subsequent ATM hopping, thousands turned up to witness the city’s first brush with Test cricket and take their mind away from the 500s and 1000s stuffed in mattresses. However, the grapevine has it that the early rush at the gates was because of the rumour doing the rounds that ticket counters were accepting the banned notes, as a special case. Wishful thinking, it proved to be.
The coin too ditched India. After winning seven straight tosses, Indian skipper Virat Kohli got it wrong. Those were early signs. This was not going to be another home Test featuring wobbly touring batsmen and vicious Indian spinners. Many stereotypes went crumbling on the not-so-crumbing track.
Here’s a list of them:
1) Pacers effective, catchers fumbling: Indian pacers do get early breakthroughs once in a while but of late, at home, they are mostly effective with the old ball against tail-enders. This was a different day. Shami and Yadav were consistently hitting the just short of over-pitch length, giving enough time for the ball to swing. Most balls were above 140kph and had carry. They surprised them with bouncers too. Alastair Cook was dropped twice, Shami and Yadav rattling him with their pace and movement, Ajinkya Rahane failing to hold on to a ball at catchable height at gully while Virat Kohli doing well to get down but failing to cup the ball at slip. However, there was consensus at SCA stadium that it was Murali Vijay who dropped the easiest catch. Debutant Haseeb Hameed getting a life, Yadav getting a migraine. The first 10 overs were an exhibition of first-rate pace bowling, and also third-rate close catching.
2) Young opener surviving Jadeja’s new ball spell: On Indian tracks, the best in business dread the sight of Ravindra Jadeja with the new ball in hand. This is his home ground, a surface on which he can land the ball on the rough while blindfolded. Right-handed Hameed would have been the perfect first wicket of the left-handed bowler to take the ball away. The 19-year-old with a classic stance and a confident stride forward passed the Jadeja Test. Avoiding back foot play, he negotiated the left-arm spinners’ fastish balls that skid off the surface. Not many have survived but Hameed shielded those early darts.
3) Spin trio ineffective with old ball: At 102/3 at lunch, an England collapse wasn’t just expected, it seemed destined. If they couldn’t negotiate the Bangladesh spinners what chance did they have against the world’s best offie Ravichandran Ashwin, home boy Jadeja and the ODI man of the series against the Black Caps Amit Mishra. There were a couple of reasons for it. One, the surface wasn’t providing much assistance. Secondly, Root and Moeen were effective. They defended stoutly, they manipulated the strike and punished anything loose. However, their real test will be the second innings.
However, it’s been a while since a visiting team scored 300 plus on the first day of a tour. Root said that England was eyeing a 500 plus total. The tourists are playing three spinners and three pacers who can reverse swing. India needs to bat long and bat fast to force a result. After witnessing several three to four day Tests, this one seems likely to go the distance. The Barmy Army had their voice all day. They just have one worry now. Their 100 rupee notes are fast disappearing and they don’t know what to do with the Rs 500 and Rs 1000 ones.