This was an unforeseen start. The Oval is renowned as one of the better batting decks in England. However, 13 wickets fell today, the most on the opening day of an Oval Test in the 21st century. The last three meant that India, despite being bowled out for 191, are still in the contest. The 13th to fall was none other than Joe Root which feeds them with enough hope to come from behind.
It was that kind of a topsy turvy day. India, however, put on another disappointing batting display. Asked to bat first under overcast conditions, they needed to see through the tough phase. Alas, it was a repeat of Headingley. Not as ghastly by any means but the fall of the top three in the morning session never hinted at encouraging signs.
There was a wicket each for the three lead England pacers - the comeback man, Chris Woakes, the new sensation Ollie Robinson and the evergreen James Anderson. Anderson had an indifferent start but Woakes and Robinson vindicated their skipper’s decision by tightening the noose with seven maidens in a row. They also removed both the openers in this phase. Rohit Sharma was edged behind with a rising delivery by Woakes in his first over with the red-ball since August 2020 while Robinson nailed KL Rahul with a nip-backer.
Anderson then piled on his dominance against Cheteshwar Pujara, nicking him behind for 4, thus dismissing him for the 11th time in his career. It was a dismissal which looked worse for the right-hander with every replay. Ending the first session at 54 for three, England fought back after a sluggish start pushing India into the corner again.
Ravindra Jadeja at five was a fresh change in the batting order which otherwise carried the same outlook. But it looked like an experiment in its budding stages when Jadeja eventually edged Woakes to the first slip at the score of 69. For a batsman who has left pretty well throughout the tour, it was an uncharacteristic prod.
Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane stabled the nerves for a while. They took the score to 100. There was the essence of a Kohli-Rahane partnership. As Rahane took his time to settle in, Kohli appeared at his judicious best and flourished with his cover drives.
But just when the end of a barren phase without a Test hundred seemed inevitable for Kohli, Robinson hunted him down. For a change, Robinson had to come to Kohli. For a change, Kohli was trying to tuck the ball into the on-side but ultimately, it was the same outside edge that ended up in the wicketkeeper’s hand. Rahane once again got in and got out, edging the ball in the slip cordon. Rishabh Pant kept his patience in the channel that has tested him throughout the series before giving in for 9. After a stand of 36 runs which mildly rekindled hopes, India lost three wickets for 22 runs.
Shardul Thakur did make a difference with his secondary skillset. Taking on the England bowlers, he smashed the second fastest fifty for an Indian batsman in Test cricket and the fastest ever in England. His blitzkrieg added some respectability to India’s total, taking them to 190/7 before being bowled out for 191.
Bumrah stood for India’s resilience with the ball, sending both openers back in his second over. He snaffled Rory Burns producing a fatal inside edge of his awkward downswing. Three balls later, extra bounce paved way to Haseeb Hameed’s undoing who was trying to get off the mark through his preferred square off the wicket region.
Reducing England to 6 for two lifted India’s spirits but Root reached 17 in the blink of an eye with the help of three effortless boundaries. Dawid Malan looked solid on the other end. Just when their partnership was nearing the milestone of 50 runs, Umesh Yadav found the spell to sneak one past through Joe Root’s defence.
In one of the most significant moments of the day, Yadav seamed one back in from a good length to hit the top of the off and middle stump to send Root packing. Criclytics Win Projector escalated India’s chances by 8 percent but jubilant celebrations in the Indian camp exhibit their belief in a real chance.
“It is even-stevens for us”, confirmed Shardul Thakur in a chat with Sky Sports at the end of the day. Chris Woakes, in the other camp, believes England should be able to bat past India’s score on Day 2.