If India were looking for a new challenge coming into a series as significant as the one against England that got underway here on Wednesday, they got it just before the start of the first day’s play. The hosts lost a toss at home for the first time since November 2013.
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If Virat Kohli was looking for a challenge at a personal level coming into this series, he got one too. After getting lucky on seven successive occasions, the skipper finally lost a toss here at the Saurashtra Cricket Association (SCA) Stadium.
New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson had grumbled throughout the Test series in India how not being able to win a single toss here had not allowed his team to take initiative.
Alastair Cook will have no such complaints. The England captain promptly elected to bat first on a wicket that had looked good for strokeplay and offered no great assistance to spinners. Toss wasn’t the only factor that brought luck to England. They got luckier with three chances that India missed out on right at the start of the game, along with a spate of misfields and astonishing butterfingered approach.
The third ball of the very first over from Mohd Shami, one that landed just short of length, saw Cook angle his bat awkwardly without moving his feet an inch. Ajinkya Rahane, who has developed a reputation of being a safe catcher, got both his hands to the ball but grassed it at gully. The fifth ball of the sixth over offered England another life. If Rahane dropped a simple one, Murali Vijay made a mess of a simpler offer that came off Haseeb Hameed’s bat -an edge off Umesh Yadav -at first slip. Vijay got his hands on it and then let it go. In between skipper Virat Kohli, fielding at second slip, let Cook go off Shami again.
A lot happened post these two missed chances, including an inspiring century from the gritty Joe Root, but the slip-ups would go on to play on India’s mind until stumps and after. Before Root put his head down and got to work on a partnership with Moeen Ali, one that would eventually help England reach an impressive 311-4 at the end of the day’s play, the visitors messed up a bit with technology. For a team that’s been using the DRS for six years now, England were in for a shocker in the first session. They failed to ask for a review when they should have and wasted a review later when the batsman was caught leg-before, plumb.
Alastair Cook wasn’t out. A flat one from Ravindra Jadeja, pitched on length, was clearly missing the legstump but as soon as it hit Cook’s right pad, umpire Chris Gaffanay made the most horrible decision of the day. Cook looked at the young Hameed, just 19 years of age, playing his first Test, for a suggestion on whether he should go for a referral or not. For a 31-year-old, with 135 Test matches behind him, it was for Cook to take the call.
Instead, he walked and India couldn’t have been happier. Ten overs later, Ashwin bowled a beauty to Hameed, a classic off-break that was in line with the off-stump. Hameed was out but went for a review after seeking Root’s opinion. Another review wasted.
It all happened before Root – England’s saviour yet again, like he’s been over the last four years – took matters into his own hands. The No. 3 ranked batsmen who’ll be 26 years old by the time this series ends played a classic Test knock of aggression and patience, struck 11 boundaries and a six, to reach 124 off 180 balls.
It was a chanceless innings, barring a referral by India that was turned down. The young man made Ashwin look uneasy. Given the form of the bowler lately, it should’ve been the other way round.
The end came in a somewhat sloppy way when Yadav caught the batsman off his own bowling -but threw the ball up to celebrate the feat ala Herschelle Gibbs at Headingley in the 1999 World Cup to let off Steve Waugh. That catch was ruled invalid. The umpires got together on this one too, but eventually the England vice-captain was sent on his way. Root’s dismissal brought an end to a 176-run partnership with Moeen Ali who is batting on 99.
The onus will now be on Ali, Ben Stokes and the rest, to prosper further.