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Thursday, March 04, 2021

India vs England: Back to earth with a rude jolt

After the high of Australia, India handed a comprehensive humbling by England – their first home loss in four years

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty |
Updated: February 10, 2021 10:58:31 am
Joe Root waited for the SG ball to get a little older before bringing on James Anderson. (BCCI TV)

History was made in Brisbane. Normality returned in Chennai.

What happened at the Gabba last month – India chasing down 328 in the fourth innings – wasn’t normal, which made the win historic. What happened at Chepauk on Tuesday was how a Test match is expected to pan out on the fifth day, especially in the subcontinent. India started the day 381 runs adrift in an improbable chase of 420 to win the match. With nine wickets in hand, they needed to play out 90 overs to eke out a draw. About an hour and 15 minutes after lunch, they folded for 192 in their second innings, losing the game by 227 runs. England went one-up, but there’s a lot of cricket yet to be played in this four-match series.

The Burnley Express

Around mid-morning, the ‘Burnley Express’ left the station and barged into the Indian batting. England captain Joe Root waited for the SG ball to get a little older before bringing on James Anderson. There was a hint of reverse swing. Given an inch, the 38-year-old took a mile and broke India’s backbone.

Shubman Gill was batting like a prince. He had just reached his third half-century in four Tests. Anderson breached his defence with a good length delivery that reversed. Gill played the line, but late inswing saw the ball sneak through the gate. Ajinkya Rahane came and survived a very confident leg-before appeal on umpire’s call. Anderson bowled the next delivery from wide of the crease and made it reverse again. Rahane, too, played the line and left a gap between bad and pad. The off- stump went for a walk.

India still had Rishabh Pant, the fourth innings hero in Australia in scintillating form. Anderson, though, is a different kettle of fish. He bowled one a touch slower. Pant realised it late and tried to adjust, but the damage was done. Root got a simple catch at cover. A master was at work and India got that sinking feeling. Anderson’s 3/17 on the final day was the game-changer.

Anderson’s reverse swing was always going to be India’s biggest threat on the fifth day. He had used it to perfection in Mumbai in 2006. He worked over Sachin Tendulkar in Kolkata in 2012. He tormented Virat Kohli in 2014 in England. On Tuesday, Gill was given a rude awakening. Different generation of batsmen, but the great man from Burnley remains constant.

In the context of the game, it probably didn’t matter. But Anderson versus Kohli at Chepauk was connoisseur’s cricket. Kohli stood outside the crease, forcing the bowler to alter his length. Anderson started to bowl outswingers on a fourth- stump line to the India captain. When he erred in line a bit, Kohli took singles. The two greats were cancelling out each other. On a wearing surface, Kohli was giving a batting masterclass until a Ben Stokes delivery kept a little too low to go under his bat and hit the off-stump. Kohli made 72.

Spare a thought for Jack Leach, who returned with four wickets. The left-arm spinner had accounted for Rohit Sharma with a beauty on the fourth evening. On the final day, another special delivery got the better of Cheteshwar Pujara. The ball had drift, turned and jumped after pitching before taking the shoulder of the bat to Stokes at first slip. Another excellent catch was taken. Contrary to India, England’s fielding throughout the match was superb. Over two innings, the tourists bowled just two no-balls. India’s collective tally stood at 27.

From England’s perspective, dismissing Pujara early was half the job done. For Leach, the second innings was his redemption after being taken to the cleaners by Pant in the first dig. It spoke volumes for the Somerset man’s strength of character.

First innings blues

India were flying high after the Australia tour. They were brought down to earth by a wonderfully-prepared England team and looking back, the hosts lost the game in the first innings. Losing the toss on this Chepauk pitch was a disadvantage, for it had virtually nothing for the bowlers on the first two days. And yet, under the pump, the team’s body language didn’t inspire confidence. Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin bowled their hearts out, but Root and Co capitalised on the frequent freebies offered by Shahbaz Nadeem and Washington Sundar.

Between Nadeem and Washington, 265 runs were conceded in 70 overs – only six maidens – in the first innings. It didn’t allow India to build any pressure. The team preferred Nadeem over Kuldeep Yadav and at the post-match presser, Kohli backed the selection saying that the idea was to add variety; a spinner who could take the ball away from the right-hander. Nadeem, however, proved to be a let-down at this level. As for Washington, he is young and has very little first-class cricket experience. He will learn as he plays more matches. India got their bowling act together in England’s second innings, a little too late.

India’s first-innings batting was below par as well. As Kohli said, another 80 runs could have changed the entire complexion of the game. He spoke about application. Maybe, the batting unit was a touch overconfident, which could happen after such a spectacular series triumph Down Under – there’s always a next man to do the job. If that was the case, this match has served as a timely wake-up call.

Looking ahead

Axar Patel’s dodgy knee ruled him out of the first Test. He was the closest that Indian cricket could offer as Ravindra Jadeja’s replacement. Subject to recovery, Axar will get into the side for the second Test, again at Chepauk in four days’ time. Else, leg-spinner Rahul Chahar might be handed a Test debut, going by the India skipper’s emphasis on variety in the bowling attack. This Indian team is good at responding to reverses. They did it after England had finished stronger in the first Test at Rajkot in 2016. The next four Tests were won in a canter. India also bounced back from the first Test defeat against Australia in 2017 to win the series 2-1. The fightback in Australia after 36 all out in Adelaide is still fresh in memory.

Then again, the third Test of the ongoing series is a day-night pink-ball affair, to be played on a seaming pitch in Ahmedabad from February 24. The England seam attack has all the bases covered and Stuart Broad will join the party. Also, India have now lost four Tests on the bounce under Kohli’s captaincy.

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