Joe Root and Dominic Sibley put on contrasting batting masterclasses and made India toil hard on Day 1 of the opening Test at Chepauk on Friday (February 5). The surface was perfect for batting and the two made the most of it. Root crafted 128* off 197 deliveries in his 100th Test and was phenomenal against spin, while Sibley stuck to his gameplan and wore down the Indian bowlers by consuming 286 deliveries for his 87.
Earlier, England won an important toss and elected to bat first on what was a pure belter. There was no movement or turn on offer and Root and Sibley put on 200 runs for the third wicket to propel England to 263/3 in 89.3 overs before stumps were drawn. Jasprit Bumrah bowled his heart out and got rid of Sibley in the final over of the day's play to give India something to cherish.
BURNS STARTS WELL BUT THROWS IT AWAY
Playing his first Test in India, Bumrah should have got a wicket off his very first ball, but Rishabh Pant dropped a tough catch behind the stumps. The right-arm paceman, who made his Test debut in January 2018, looked in control from ball one and kept Sibley and Rory Burns on their toes. Making his comeback from injury, Ishant Sharma kept things tidy with the new ball but didn't really trouble the England openers. There was hardly any movement on offer and Indian captain Virat Kohli introduced his ace offspinner R Ashwin into the attack after just seven overs.
Burns and Sibley, however, played the waiting game and did well to survive the first hour. Ashwin was a bit too straight and with the ball not turning, Burns and Sibley played him out with ease. Axar Patel missed out on a Test debut after injuring his left knee last evening and India had to go with Shahbaz Nadeem and Washington Sundar was picked ahead of Kuldeep Yadav. The moment Ashwin and Nadeem dropped anything short, Burns and Sibley pounced on it and kept the scoreboard moving. To their credit, Burns and Sibley played the two spinners with soft hands and became the first overseas opening pair since Australia's Matt Renshaw and David Warner (March 2017 in Ranchi) to put on fifty runs for the first wicket.
Everything was going well but against the run of play, Burns went for a needless reverse-sweep and the ball lobbed up off his gloves. Pant completed the catch and Burns had to walk back for 33. It was Ashwin who broke the 63-run opening stand and then Kohli brought back Bumrah for an over before lunch. And, the ace paceman delivered. Bumrah got one to angle back in from just outside off and pinned Daniel Lawrence (0) right in front of the stumps to claim his maiden wicket on Indian soil.
CLASSY ROOT, GRITTY SIBLEY
Root, who managed scores of 228 and 186 in the two Tests in Sri Lanka, has been in solid form and his battle against Ashwin was always going to be an intriguing one. Root made a majority of his runs while employing the sweep in Sri Lanka. He scored 380 runs against spinners and 168 of those came via sweep shots.
While Bumrah tried to trap him in front of the stumps, Root looked compact from the word go. The Indian bowlers were very disciplined in the second session and Ashwin was slowly starting to get the ball to talk. The offspinner mixed his pace and length beautifully and was constantly troubling Sibley.
Meanwhile, with the ball reversing, Ishant was way more threatening in his second spell and came very close to dismissing Root. The stylish right-hander survived a close lbw call and even nicked one that fell right in front of first slip. Root and Sibley, however, were much more comfortable against Nadeem and Sundar. Root didn't play a single sweep against Ashwin early in the innings but was willing to take that risk against the two spinners who are both featuring in their second Tests. Sibley too used the crease to perfection and didn't allow the duo to settle in.
The two spinners bowled 10 overs in tandem and the English duo scored six boundaries in that phase. As expected, Sibley scored most of his runs through the leg side and brought up his fifty off 159 deliveries. Just when it felt like Sibley and Root were starting to dictate terms, Kohli got Bumrah and Ashwin back into the attack. Bumrah was fiery, but Root took the attack to Ashwin and hammered him for back-to-back boundaries before the end of the second session.
Ishant got the ball to reverse both ways, but Nadeem didn't create enough pressure from the other end. Root, who has done well in India in the past, got to yet another fifty by slapping Nadeem for a boundary through sweeper cover. Root now has a fifty-plus score in each of the seven Tests he has played in India. The ball also lost its seam and it only made things more difficult for the Indian bowlers. Root and Sibley batted with a contrasting approach. The former played shots all around the wicket, while Sibley was more than happy to take the back seat.
Having perfected all three different forms of the sweep – conventional, paddle and the reverse – Root put on a fine show against the Indian spinners. Nadeem tried bowling from both sides, but the Yorkshireman first swept him towards deep mid-wicket and then played a switch hit to stamp his authority. The runs kept flowing off Root's willow as Nadeem and Sundar bowled quite a few freebies. The 30-year-old looked at utmost ease against the two spinners and completed his 20th Test ton, becoming the ninth batsman to hit a hundred in his 100th Test.
Sibley, who became only the third England opener to face more than 250 deliveries in the first innings of a Test in India, played his part to perfection and even got a move on in the final session. The new ball made no difference whatsoever and tired bodies didn't help either. Root was struggling with cramps because of the heat, but that didn't stop him from slog-sweeping Ashwin for a maximum over deep mid-wicket. Everything was going according to plan for the visitors, but Bumrah came up with a peach of a yorker in the final over of the day's play and caught Sibley right in front of the stumps.
While Sibley missed out on a well-deserved century, Bumrah has given India a real opening.