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India's erratic day hands over the control to England

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Last updated on 05 Jul 2022 | 12:07 AM
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India's erratic day hands over the control to England

A shocking day in both facets of the game can cost India a golden chance to win a Test series in England

The day started with India in the driver’s seat. They were leading by 257 runs with seven wickets in hand. Cheteshwar Pujara and Rishabh Pant has their eye in. The ball wasn’t doing much in the first hour. When England started with Joe Root bowling from the other hand, it appeared incredibly defensive from the home team. 

Even considering the BazBall theory, it is more of a phenomenon with the bat than the ball. Yet, it would have been foolish to claim that England would go down without a fight. With the odds stacked against them, their bowlers did the job in a silent manner. However, they were also helped equally by the Indian batters. 

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India collapsed from 125/3 at the start of the day to 245 all out. That is seven wickets for 120 runs. They were in firm control of the game for the majority of the Test match. And this was exactly the kind of third innings collapse that turns a smooth journey into a tumble down the ground. 

There was a hint of complacency and an arbitrary texture to India’s batting on Day 4. There was neither an effort to build partnerships nor to go for the shots. An efficient mix of attack and defense is never out of fashion but India never got on with it. 

Pujara found the man playing his bread and butter cut stroke. This is his first dismissal to an attacking stroke against a pacer in 36 Test innings, dating back to January 2020. Pant reverse swept Jack Leach straight to Joe Root at first slip in a dismissal that bordered on ego. 

Shreyas Iyer continued his susceptibility against the short ball. However, Ravindra Jadeja played the most shocking knock of the day. Post lunch, when India had only three wickets left, Jadeja only added 6 more runs to his total in six overs without holding on to the tailenders. 

“We were in a position where we really could've batted them out of the game. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. A lot of people got starts but really couldn't convert,” said India’s batting coach, Vikram Rathour after the day’s play. 

India’s lower order (number 8 to 11) contributed 26 runs to the total. Factually, India missed a hefty contribution from this lot. That is the pattern that the first four Tests of the series, played nine to ten months ago, dictates. India’s middle-order - number 4 to 6 - were under par but the lower-order bailed them out on multiple occasions. It is a surprise since England's lower-order was known to hold more batting expertise.

It happened at Trent Bridge, Lord’s, the Oval and in the first innings of this Test. The one time it didn’t happen, the side crumbled to an unceremonious collapse. 

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378 was still a daunting task for England. They have never chased that much in their rich history of Test cricket. But they had the confidence after pulling off three successful run chases in a row. That is what made Ben Stokes opt to bowl. On the other hand, India had conceded competitive totals in each of their last two overseas Tests. 

Past events aside, England had the best batting conditions for the day. The second session has been great for batting in this English summer. Still, you would think Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami would fancy their chances against England’s dysfunctional top three. 

However, Alex Lees and Zak Crawley enjoyed their time under the sun, both literally and metaphorically. Lees charged down in Shami’s first over to produce a clumsy boundary through mid-wicket. India handed the ball to Jadeja but akin to a white-ball game, Lees acted on the match-up front, drilling the bowler past mid-off for four and following it up with productive reverse and slog sweeps. 

Within 20 overs, Lees and Crawley razed off 100 runs from the deficit, notching up England’s first 100-run opening stand since the Oval Test of the series played in September, 2022. In that game, England were chasing 368. After the century stand, England lost 10 wickets for 110 runs, primarily to Bumrah’s brief spell of cathartic reverse swing. A similar plot began to surface here when England stumbled from 107/0 to 109/3, knocking on the door of implosion. 

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Bumrah bowled a number of in-coming deliveries to Jonny Bairstow but without the late tail-in that could disrupt his stellar form. That is where Bairstow and Joe Root played the waiting game, holding the attack for India’s change bowlers. 

They weathered the storm for nearly 12 overs, seeing off Bumrah, Shami and Jadeja. Only 32 runs came in this period. Mohammad Siraj and Shardul Thakur delivered five overs of awry bowling in tandem that enabled England 28 runs. It opened the floodgates, as England mustered 93 runs in 18 overs from thereon. 

In a phase where India needed to hold their horses, Siraj and Thakur splattered the ball all over the park. While the second session was about drives and flicks from Crawley and Lees, India conceded many boundaries square of the wicket to the Yorkshire duo. 

Up until Day 4, Siraj and Thakur have conceded 211 runs in 35.3 overs in the match - almost 6 runs per over. In the second innings, it led to open spaces in the in-field and short-ball tactics that allowed easy runs. Bairstow and Root completed a 150-run stand in the third session itself. England’s waiting game paid off whereas India were too frenetic to create any pressure. Not to forget the dropped catch by Hanuma Vihari when Bairstow edged one at the score of 14. 

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This year, the Indian pacers average 80.1 runs per wicket in the fourth innings of overseas Tests. A principal factor behind this number is the lack of persistence to wait for the wicket. It allowed easy runs to South Africa earlier this year despite helpful conditions. On Monday, it enabled England to finish the day on a high.

They are still 119 runs away from the finish line with seven wickets in hand. That is nearly the same equation for which India were blown away in the morning session. After an erratic day, it is poetic justice that the visitors need to pull off the same act as their counterparts to claim the series. 

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