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Saturday, September 18, 2021

2nd Test, Day 2: Old hands keep England in game

India fail to bat England out of game before three wickets keep second Test well poised.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty |
Updated: August 14, 2021 12:15:36 pm
India's Ishant Sharma reacts as England's Joe Root runs between the wickets during the second Test. (AP)

James Anderson got his five-for with swing. Mohammed Siraj worked over Dom Sibley and Haseeb Hameed with seam. The second Test is now intriguingly poised after India wasted a golden opportunity to slam the door shut on the hosts. Against the visitors’ 364 all out in their first innings, England finished Day Two on 119/3.

As evening approached, Mohammed Shami dismissed a well-set Rory Burns to break an 85-run third-wicket partnership for England. It was a fitting end to a day when fortunes swung back and forth and no team could claim ascendency.

The start was anti-climactic. After a flawless first day of batting, KL Rahul got out to an Ollie Robinson half-volley off the second ball of the day. He drove the hit-me delivery but failed to keep it down to give a simple catch to Sibley at cover. The Indian opener looked guilt-ridden, although a full house at Lord’s stood up to applaud an excellent innings. Rahul’s 129 had 12 fours and a six, and a bucketload of application.

His dismissal in that manner was unexpected. But Ajinkya Rahane departing early was pretty much expected. During his brief but laboured stay at the crease on Thursday evening, the India vice-captain looked all over the place. On Friday, Anderson made short work of him with an outswinger, with Rahane poking at it as his front foot failed to cover the swing.

Pant’s own ways

Humour and anecdotes have had been integral parts of English cricket. The late John Arlott used to have a few on his good friend, former India wicketkeeper Farokh Engineer. It was Arlott who had coined the phrase ‘agricultural shot’, while watching Engineer’s pyrotechnics as an opener during India’s tour of England in 1967. The legendary former commentator probably would have enjoyed Rishabh Pant’s innovations even more.

Pant charged down the track to an Anderson delivery in the corridor, but decided to shoulder arms at the last moment. In the MCC box, Engineer had a smile on his face.

But there’s method to Pant’s madness. A little later, the left-hander agriculturally swatted an away-goer from the England legend over the slip cordon to the third man boundary. TV cameras caught Engineer in animated conversation.

Pant was batting well until a Mark Wood delivery beat him for pace and bounce. But in the context of the game, his 37 runs and the 49-run sixth-wicket partnership with Ravindra Jadeja was important. The latter yet again played a valuable innings to take India past 350. But losing seven wickets for 88 runs on the day saw them surrender some of the initiative. On the second day of the game, Lord’s turned red to commemorate the Ruth Strauss Foundation Day. The Indian batting resembled the greyish London sky.

Time and again, a porous middle order has let the team down. Over the past 18 months, this is how the overseas figures read for the three senior-most batsmen – Virat Kohli: 5 Tests, 158 runs, average 19.75. Cheteshwar Pujara: 8 Tests, 396 runs, average 28.28. Ajinkya Rahane: 8 Tests, 365 runs, average 28.07. Only Rahane has scored a century during this period, but since the World Test Championship final against New Zealand in June, his feet movement and concentration have been betraying him. Contrary to Kohli’s claim on the eve of the second Test, India’s batting doesn’t look well placed at all.

Veteran on song

England’s bowling was virtually a one-man show. Anderson came into the game nursing a dodgy quad. The England team management took a big risk, but bereft of Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad, they barely had any other option. At 39 years of age, the master paceman bowled 29 overs and returned with 5/62, his 31st career five-for and seventh at this venue.

England made a cautious start to their innings. Conditions became a lot easier for batting and they weren’t up against an imposing total. But Sibley chipped a length ball from Siraj to Rahul at short mid-wicket, an action replay of his Trent Bridge dismissal, and Hameed missed a straight half-volley next ball to be bowled. At 23/2, it once again came down to Joe Root to do the resurrection job. This time, he had Burns for company.

As the ball became older, the scoring rate improved. A flurry of boundaries from Burns and Root put the pressure back on India. Siraj yet again became overexcited with his decision-review demands and a couple of challenges were wasted.

Jadeja came into the attack and the odd ball turned. Earlier in the day, Moeen Ali, too, got a bit of purchase from the second day Lord’s pitch. It needs to be seen if India will miss Ravichandran Ashwin, for England will bat last in this game.

Root and Burns were batting nicely, when Shami intervened with a delivery that landed on the seam and cut back into the left-hander. Burns was plumb in front and his decision to review it was a poor one. The wicket came at the right time for India. Otherwise, England would have started Day 3 stronger.

Brief scores: India 364 (KL Rahul 129, Rohit 83; Anderson 5/62) lead England 119/3 (Burns 49, Root 48 batting) by 245 runs

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