England captain Joe Root’s move to put India into bat after winning the toss on the opening day of the second Test failed for three reasons.
There wasn’t as much life in the pitch as a greenish top suggested — it did not, for instance, seam with any great alarm; the English bowlers failed to bowl late outswing from off and middle stumps with the new ball; and last but not the least, brilliant batting by Rohit Sharma and K.L. Rahul.
Rahul, after a pensive start, accelerated appreciably. His first boundary was a straight six off Moeen Ali. He then proceeded to register his second three-figure knock in England — both as an opener.
Root’s decision was defensive and possibly premeditated. He banked on James Anderson delivering the goods in heavy, overcast conditions. But Root’s lack of confidence in his non-performing batsmen against a potent Indian attack was perhaps as much a reason for opting to field.
Injury prevented Anderson’s age-old partner Stuart Broad from playing in the match. This brought in Mark Wood, who is consistently the fastest bowler on either side, but depends less on movement in the air or off the wicket.
Ollie Robinson, successful in the first test at Nottingham with his disciplined line and length, was unable to tempt the Indians into error.
Sam Curran, who was introduced as first change, did swing the ball, but lacked pace and was feasted upon by Sharma once he got going. He hooked Wood for a six to fine leg. In the 100-run partnership between Sharma and Rahul, the former’s share of runs was 75.
But an overseas century continues to elude Sharma, who fell for 83, bowled by Anderson off his pads. It will not be surprising, though, if he makes amends in this series, for he is at present in sublime touch, playing with time to spare — the hallmark of a quality batsman.
The 203 runs realised by Vijay Merchant and Syed Mushtaq Ali at the Old Trafford in Manchester in 1936 still remains the highest first wicket stand by India in England.
(Senior cricket writer Ashis Ray is a broadcaster and author of the book ‘Cricket World Cup: The Indian Challenge’)