Top and middle order woes continue as India bowled out for 191 but Bumrah, Yadav strike to leave England at 53/3
Joe Root’s dismissal at the fag end of the day brought India back into the game. For a change, the England captain got out cheaply to an Umesh Yadav nip-backer. The hosts had earlier lost their openers to Jasprit Bumrah, but Root was quick off the blocks. England’s 53/3 keeps India alive after another batting collapse.
It was the same old story, although 191 all out was a marked improvement from 78 in the last game. Shardul Thakur’s counter-attack gave India’s first innings total some respectability. Before his charge, Virat Kohli aside, wickets fell like a house of cards. Yet again, India’s batting had no answer to a nagging length and lateral movement. Yet again, Rishabh Pant fell prey to an atrocious shot.
Thakur’s exhilarating hitting gave a full house at the Oval the most compelling passage of play on the first day of the fourth Test. Some gorgeous cricket shots were played with sprinkles of agricultural swishes. It frustrated Root to the extent of bellowing at Ollie Pope, when the latter was oblivious to his captain’s call to change his fielding position. Thakur’s pyrotechnics also forced Root on the defensive.
At 127/7, India looked shackled. Thakur broke it through back-to-back fours off Chris Woakes. The first of those, a whip over square leg, came off a short of a length delivery. Many times in this series, such deliveries got top order Indian batsmen squared up. Thakur, batting at No. 8, showed them the way.
Lifting the mood
His 36-ball 57, including seven fours and three sixes, wasn’t quite a rescue act like the Gabba, for here at the Oval he didn’t have a Washington Sundar at the other end. But with Umesh Yadav in company, Thakur added 63 runs for the eighth wicket – Yadav’s contribution was 10 – to lift the mood of a gloomy dressing-room.
The first day’s play had two mini turning points. If Thakur’s fightback allowed an asphyxiated Indian batting to breathe again, England’s change of plans against Kohli took them into ascendency. In fact, the game changed significantly after the first drinks break post-lunch, when Root assembled his troops for a team huddle and asked his bowlers to drag the length back against the India captain. Kohli had decided to take the bull by the horns. Getting out in the off stump channel, and a couple of times playing expansive drives, he could have eschewed his signature shot, cover drive. He embraced it instead. His first four was an exquisite on-drive against James Anderson.
Kohli was the only Indian batsman who countered England’s length-choke – just short of a good length – through a decisive back-and-across trigger movement. It forced Anderson and company to bowl fuller. And Kohli brilliantly turned that to his advantage. His strike rate against fuller deliveries was 167.
He still wafted the bat at a few deliveries that wobbled away late. Confusion between Root and Joe Burns saw him get a reprieve off Woakes on 22. But Kohli scored his runs quickly, reaching his half-century off 85 balls, hitting eight fours.
After the drinks break, England bowlers went a little further back with their length. It brought on pressure. Ten consecutive dot balls later, Ollie Robinson had the breakthrough and the in-between length did the trick. Extra bounce and a hint of outward seam movement opened Kohli a bit in his stance, as he closed the bat-face a touch. The catch went to Jonny Bairstow behind the stumps.
On either side of Kohli’s innings and before Thakur took up the cudgels, Indian batting resembled a procession. The red Dukes ball started to unfold its mystery after about 10 overs and seam rather than swing was the flavour. By that time, however, Rohit Sharma was out, done in by extra bounce, as comeback man Woakes bowled an effort ball and managed to land it on the shoulder of the bat.
Rahul was trapped leg before, failing to counter the late inward movement, with Robinson bowling from close to the stumps. Cheteshwar Pujara followed an Anderson outswinger that also seamed away.
Ravindra Jadeja came at No. 5 instead of Ajinkya Rahane. He departed three overs after lunch. Rahane survived an LBW decision on review, tried to play himself in but never looked comfortable. A fine catch at third slip by Moeen Ali off Craig Overton put him out of his misery.
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The England bowlers were seemingly enjoying bowling to Pant. Woakes set him up by pushing mid-off deeper and inviting the southpaw with a slower delivery. Pant fell into the trap. Insulated by ‘that’s how he plays’ and ‘long rope’, his shot had a mohalla cricket feel.
Ashwin not included
The Oval laid out a greenish pitch, but stats showed that in County cricket here this season, spinners so far have taken 59 wickets at an average of 27.77 compared to the pacers’ 79 scalps at 37.54. Barely a month-and-half ago, Ashwin had a six-for at this venue, playing for Surrey.
India yet again went with four fast bowlers, although Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami made way for Yadav and Shardul respectively. Jadeja was the lone spinner. “England has four left-handers, so a good match-up for Jadeja, with our seamers bowling over the wicket,” Kohli said at the toss.
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