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Friday, February 26, 2021

India vs England: Fun in the sun

Root’s double ton puts England in driver’s seat as India toil for second successive day.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty |
Updated: February 6, 2021 9:50:52 pm
England players Ben Stokes and Joe Root run between the wickets during the 2nd day of first cricket test match between India and England, at MA Chidambaram Stadium ,in Chennai (Source: PTI)

In sunny Chennai, England played sunshine cricket. India came back into the game marginally after picking four wickets in the final session. But the second day of the first Test again belonged to Joe Root, whose aesthetically-pleasing 218 laid the base for England’s 555/8 at stumps.

One of the finest Test innings at Chepauk didn’t have anyone to appreciate it from the stands, due to Covid-forced regulations. Its quality prompted Virat Kohli to run towards the double centurion, shake hands and give a tap on the shoulder after his England counterpart was eventually dismissed.

Root resumed the day on 128. Gradually, he moved into the pantheon of the likes of Don Bradman and Wally Hammond, achievement-wise, and then went beyond them. Like Bradman and Hammond, and four others, Root got to a 150-plus score in his third successive Test. He became the first batsman to score a double hundred in his 100th Test. He ended up being only the second touring captain after Clive Lloyd (242 not out at Bombay in 1975) to score a Test double century in India. Throughout his 8-hour-56-minute stay at the crease, Root sent the Indian bowlers and fielders on a leather hunt and kept statisticians busy.

For a player with over 8,000 Test runs and 20 centuries, including five double hundreds, the 30-year-old doesn’t hesitate to recall the wide-eyed experience of his debut at Nagpur nine years ago. Ahead of his 100th Test, Root sat down with former England fast bowler Steve Harmison for TalkSPORT’s Following On podcast and recounted his experience of getting into an England dressing room that had greats like Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and James Anderson – about “pinching” himself while walking past Sachin Tendulkar at mid-off, “the greatest-ever batsman” who made his Test debut before Root was even born. He spoke with the excitement and freshness of a youngster.

Go long, go big

Root, as he told Harmison, has been clear about his team’s strategy for the India series, setting 500-550 as a first innings par score and batting in excess of 120 overs to get there. He successfully anchored his team to that target at Chepauk. England have already batted 180 overs in their first innings.

Once again, the sweep was his go-to shot against spinners. “He can sweep from the wide arc from right of mid-on almost to fine-leg. Then with his reverse, he can go from cover point to third man,” Ben Stephens, the director at Joe Root Academy told The Indian Express. Over the two days at Chepauk, Ravichandran Ashwin, Shahbaz Nadeem and Washington Sundar bore the brunt of Root’s mastery. Once again, he played out the good deliveries from Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah and targeted the weak links of the Indian bowling. Nadeem and Sundar had just six maiden overs between them out of the 70 they bowled. Ashwin tried his variations, but on an unresponsive pitch and without any support from the other end, he was worn out.

An over-critical assessment of Virat Kohli’s captaincy could be that he probably over-attacked Root instead of forcing his opposite number to run more. Root, in fact, never looked like getting out until a Nadeem delivery straightened and kept a little low to trap him leg-before. After the first half an hour on Saturday, a more spread-out field for Root could have pushed him to take more singles in hot and humid conditions. Root had suffered cramps on the first day and making him run more might have been a viable ploy. Root reached his double hundred with a six over the long-on off Ashwin.

Lion-hearted pacers

In the second over of the day, Bumrah bowled a yorker from round the wicket to Ben Stokes. The latter was beaten all ends up but somehow managed an inside edge that saved him. Stokes was yet to open his account then. He went on to score a quick-fire 82, adding 124 runs for the fourth wicket with Root in the process. Cricket’s a game of fine margins. Stokes looked a tad skittish in defence. So he counter-attacked the spinners to get out of trouble. Nadeem was targeting the rough outside the left-hander’s off-stump but Stokes was sweeping and reverse-sweeping him for fun. The left-arm spinner finally got the better of the England all-rounder; a mistimed slog-sweep was caught by Cheteshwar Pujara at deep backward square-leg. It was only the second delivery that Nadeem had bowled to Stokes from over the wicket.

The pitch on Saturday wore an orangish hue but everything was still happening in virtual slow motion. On such a pitch, Ishant and Bumrah showed big hearts. They hit the right length and chugged along tirelessly. Ishant was eventually rewarded with the wickets of Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer off successive deliveries. His spell after tea was one reason why India came back in the final session. England had gone to tea on 454/4. They scored 101 runs and lost four wickets after the break. The odd ball had started to turn by then. Puffs of dust became evident. Still, Ishant and Bumrah, looked more potent than their spin counterparts.

Poor fielding

Three unsuccessful reviews didn’t do India any favours and when on 18, Buttler edged a Sundar delivery to Rishabh Pant behind the stumps, the team had exhausted its options. Umpiring so far has been excellent in this Test and Anil Chaudhary’s error was an aberration.

The team management would be more concerned about the fielding though. A total of 31 catches went down across formats in Australia. On Saturday, Ashwin dropped a caught- and-bowled chance from Stokes, while Pujara dropped a sharp chance at square-leg. Towards the end, Rohit Sharma dropped a dolly to give Dom Bess a reprieve. On Day 1, Pant had let go a legside catch from Rory Burns. Root survived an easy run-out opportunity. The team’s fielding coach R Sridhar would be a disappointed man.

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