Spinners share seven wickets as England stumble to 205 all out on the first day
England fought the conditions, a well-tuned India attack, and the internal momentum of their own fading batting fortunes to try and stay in contention on the first day of the fourth Test in Ahmedabad. The best that could be said of England’s total of 205 was that it was more than they had achieved across two innings on the same ground last week; the worst, that there is no team more adept than India at making such hard graft look inadequate.
Having won the toss and chosen to bat, there was no doubt that England had left runs on the table. Only Ben Stokes managed to fashion a half-century, and the highest partnership of the innings was 48. Since piling up 578 in benign conditions at the outset of the series in Chennai, England’s batsmen have yet to produce another fifty stand.
Arguably things could have been worse. With Axar Patel continuing his fine debut series by claiming four more wickets – taking his tally to 22 at 10.81 – and Joe Root falling cheaply to the bristling Mohammed Siraj early in the day, England’s middle and lower order, strengthened by the presence of the recalled Dan Lawrence at No. 7, staved off complete collapse. James Anderson then struck with his third ball, Shubman Gill trapped lbw, to ensure that India had to plot a watchful course through to the close.
England had drastically altered the balance of their side, picking an extra batsman and bringing back Dom Bess to support Anderson and Jack Leach – though the evidence of the first part of the day was that seam would play a greater part than it did in the day-night Test, as Siraj, in particular, probed away. Stokes took the new ball, for the first time in his Test career, before giving way to Leach, but Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara experienced few alarms as the shadows lengthened.
Anderson’s immediate intervention, and the fact that they managed to creep past 200 for the first time in six innings, perhaps gave England a little to feel encouraged about after heavy defeats in the previous two Tests. Again there were signs of a turn on day one, though fewer puffs of dust than at Chepauk and without the lacquer-ish of all sorts that made the pink ball so hard to combat.
For the third time in four Tests, Root won first use of the surface, but despite positive talk about looking to find a way to score in these conditions, England was quickly in trouble as they slipped to 30 for 3. Patel’s mesmeric hold could not be broken, as he removed Dom Sibley with his second delivery after coming on in the sixth over – forewarned was not forearmed against Patel’s arm ball, Sibley playing for turn only to be bowled off his inside edge.
It was two in two overs when Zak Crawley, who had just stroked four through mid-off, tried to come down once again but did not get to the pitch, lofting tamely to mid-off; Crawley has now been dismissed by the left-arm spin of Patel and Lasith Embuldeniya seven times out of seven on England’s tours of India and Sri Lanka.
When the bustling Siraj jagged one back to rap Root on the back pad straight after the drinks break, England’s innings was threatening to go into another tailspin. But Jonny Bairstow overcame a jittery start, carving six fours before the lunch break as he and Stokes repelled all borders for a period. Stokes had faced 24 balls by the time R Ashwin was introduced to the attack, and he promptly pumped his 26th over long-off to signal that he would not go meekly.
With Virat Kohli happy to play a waiting game, rotating his bowlers regularly, it was again Siraj who provided the breakthrough shortly after lunch, winning an lbw decision against Bairstow that was returned a verdict of umpire’s call on DRS. But Stokes had seemingly discovered his groove, seeing off his nemesis – of Ashwin’s initial eight-over spell, Stokes faced 41 balls (and soaked up 38 dots) – before he began to open up, slog-sweeping Washington Sundar for six, and then going to his fifty by reversing Patel for four.
England, however, was left with a sense of what might have been. Stokes, Ollie Pope, and Lawrence all showed flashes of what was needed to succeed, but India’s quality and depth present an unrelenting challenge. Sundar found the right line with his off-spin to befuddle Stokes, beaten by another non-turner to be lbw, and Ashwin removed Pope for the third innings in a row, Gill reacting smartly at short leg to an inside edge that deflected up off the back pad flap.
Ben Foakes was lured into a furtive prod to slip by Ashwin, and although Lawrence struck several pleasing boundaries in reaching 46, he became Patel’s third victim after unsuccessfully giving the bowler the charge. With Bess trapped lbw in the same over, it required Leach and Anderson to pilfer 16 for the last wicket and breach the 200. Australia, hopeful of an England win to edge out India for a spot in the World Test Championship final, won’t be booking their charter flight just yet.