There was a moment, around 1.00 PM local time, that perfectly captured the story of the day’s play. As the two sides were making their way back to the dressing room for lunch, the cameras panned towards Jimmy Anderson, who had a beaming smile on his face. Looking bullish with the sunglasses on, there was an overwhelming sense of pride that gushed out of Anderson.
Only a day ago it was Anderson’s words that were the talk of the town on social media, but here he looked like a man who knew that his actions had spoken louder than his words ever could. India, by this point, had only lost 40% of their side, but by then all memories of Lord’s had been erased. And, from an English perspective, it was fitting that the reset button was hit by the man who was at the heart of the uncalled-for drama that cost England the second Test.
Moments before Anderson let out that beaming smile, the expression on Ajinkya Rahane’s face summed up India’s day. Having successfully negated 53 balls and having stopped the haemorrhage, Rahane, on the penultimate ball of the first session, poked at an Ollie Robinson delivery that left him after pitching.
As Jos Buttler gobbled up the catch, Rahane looked at the heavens in equal measures of disappointment and disgust. It was an expression that would have resonated with every single one of his teammates, whose undoing was as much down to their own indiscipline as it was to the brilliance of the English bowlers.
And so, just like that, as feared, the ghosts of 2014 reappeared once again.
Virat Kohli’s toss blunder and India’s three hours of hell
Joe Root threw the coin as if it were a heavy disc, and for the first time in nine attempts, Virat Kohli ended up winning a toss in a red-ball game in England. In disbelief that he finally won a toss, Kohli let the broadcasters know of his decision: “We will bat,” he said.
You cannot help but think that he now wishes that he instead uttered the words ‘b-o-w-l’.
Now, it’s easy to be critical of decisions after assessing them in hindsight. But given Headingley’s recent history, there is a lot of credibility to the claims that India and Kohli made the wrong decision at the toss.
Prior to today, since the start of 2010, 44% of the Tests at Headingley had been won by the side bowling first - the highest for any venue to host at least three matches in that time. The recent trends of scores at the venue (since 2015) also spoke volumes - while the average score for the first innings read 252, the scores for the second, third and fourth innings read 260, 289 and 313 respectively.
These scores are reflective of a wicket that gets better to bat with time, and Root’s statement at the toss alluded to the same. “There's a bit of cloud cover and it's tacky, and it'll get better and better for batting eventually. Quite happy to lose the toss,” the England skipper said.
On the eve of the Test Kohli said that he was surprised by the paucity of grass on the wicket, hinting that he expected it to aid batting, but he and his teammates were in for an unpleasant surprise come Day 1: the 1.2° of seam movement the English seamers found was, as per CricViz, the most for any side this series in the first half-hour, and the 2.2° of swing the hosts managed to extract on the morning was also their highest figure for the series.
A combination of these two made batting hell, but there was to be a third factor that would end up turning batting into a lottery.
Fresh off an eight-day break, Anderson bowled the best he has all series, inducing 22.2% false shots in the first hour. All these factors put enough doubts in the mind of the Indian batters: each of the Top 5 batters played more than 22% false shots in the first session.
By the end of the 25th over, India were 56/4, having thrown away the supposed ‘advantage’ that a team ought to gain by virtue of winning the toss.Perhaps Kohli and India got ahead of themselves and overestimated the batting. What is now clear is that India's batting - the middle order, in particular - is still a huge cause for concern. The exceptional showing by the bowlers - and the openers, to an extent - at Lord's helped paper over a few cracks, but the underlying issues were laid bare today at Headingley.
The right call at the toss might have helped mitigate the issues, but by throwing the misfiring batting line-up in the line of fire, India ended up exacerbating their problems.
Craig Overton vindicates his selection - in style
There were more groans than cheers when Overton made the XI ahead of Saqib Mahmood. The disappointment stemmed from the fact that the decision meant that viewers were going to be deprived of Mahmood’s energy and raw pace. But it took Overton all of 10 overs to not just justify his selection, but prove why he’s been in the top echelon of seamers in the County Championship for years.
Summoned to bowl only in the 21st over - after Moeen Ali - the Somerset man was bang on the money from the get-go: three of his first five overs were maidens and he gave the batsmen no breathing space. How he kept the Indian batsmen on a leash, and ensured that Anderson’s morning-burst did not go to waste, was through some metronomic seam bowling, a USP of his that has made him a menace on English wickets.
Relentlessly probing the fourth and fifth stump line - to both right and left handers - Overton kept posing questions to the Indian batsmen, giving them no loose balls to put away. But not just the line, he nailed the length too, landing nearly 60% of his deliveries on a ‘good length’ (6-8m). The awkward length he bowled, coupled with his height, often got the batters in two minds (unsure whether to play off the front or back foot), something that was evident by Rohit and Rahane being squared up by his deliveries on either side of lunch.
At both Lord’s and Trent Bridge, India, in the first innings, were aided by some loose bowling from English seamers not named Anderson and Robinson but there was to be no similar happenings today. Curran re-discovered his swing and Overton invoked one false-stroke after another by putting a strangle-hold: a staggering 90.9% of the balls the Somerset man bowled to right-handers today (50/55) were dots.
Overton might not possess Mahmood’s pace but what he does boast in abundance is skill and substance. Filling in for Wood, the right-armer’s contribution today was worth its weight in gold.