Two Tests down, and three to go, this series looked dead. But, the rot has been stopped at Trent Bridge. Two days down and with three to go, India are right in charge – with a lead of 292. We have a series yet.
England have done little right in this Test. They picked the wrong team, rushing Ben Stokes back too soon when Sam Curran did not deserve dropping and the variation provided by his left-arm swing would have been valuable. Just when they found a solution for life without Stokes, they brought him back – so far without any success – to disrupt it.
At the toss, they made a choice that was giddy and greedy. The bowling – and catching –that followed it, in favourable conditions, was no more than average, and worse than their opponents, who pitched the ball up. The batting it met lacked the application or intelligence required. The upshot of all this is that they are facing a heavy defeat, quite possibly in three days. Already, they would need to break all sorts of chasing records to win.
The issues with the batting are nothing new. Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings put on 54, which was England’s highest opening stand in eight Tests this calendar year. Cook and Jennings were out in successive balls (just as they were at Trent Bridge last year), triggering a collapse of nine for 74. They eventually lost all 10 wickets in a session for the second time this year and third in 24 Tests across 22 months. For context, they did not lose all 10 wickets in a session once between 1938 and 2016. To Dhaka 2016 and Auckland 2018, add Trent Bridge 2018.
All this after a morning session, delayed by half an hour due to squally rain, that could barely have gone better for England. Stuart Broad and James Anderson shared the final four wickets equally for the cost of 22 runs in 41 minutes to finish with three each, then the opening batsmen negotiated a tricky 40-minute batting spell.
Lights on, clouds low and form – particularly Keaton Jennings’ patchy – that looked a mighty banana skin for England. But, after both Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah’s first balls flew through a gap gully at catchable height, India let them off the hook. In just nine overs, England moved to 46 without loss. At that stage, the idea of England needing some calculated humpty from Jos Buttler to reach 130 and avoid the follow-on seemed unthinkable.
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But, of course, that had merely been time spent luring England into a fall sense of security, as illustrated by three successive balls shortly after the break. Ishant Sharma would have provided greater discipline before lunch and he immediately troubled England when entering the attack. He drew Cook’s edge but the diving keeper Rishabh Pant put off Che Pujara, at first slip, and a simple chance was shelled. Never mind, a thinner edge was found next ball and Pant made no mistake.
The following ball, Jennings nibbled horribly at one he did not need to from Bumrah and was also caught behind. Jennings looks in horrible touch and averages 18, with no half-centuries, in eight Tests at home. The returns of Nick Gubbins and Rory Burns will be monitored closely in the coming weeks.
That was just the beginning. Ollie Pope was strangled, the third of five catches for the debutant Pant, then Pandya got to work. With his first ball he had Joe Root caught low down at second slip – confirmed by an exhaustive third umpire review – then twice struck twice in the same over to pick up a five-wicket haul in just 29 balls. It was his first in Test cricket and was built on a superb length, just enough late swing, and some hapless batting. Jonny Bairstow drove hard, Chris Woakes gloved a pull behind, and not much was required to dismiss Adil Rashid or Stuart Broad, who made his 28th Test duck. In the meantime, Stokes was squared up by Mohammad Shami.
So out came James Anderson with two still required to avoid the follow-on. Buttler averted that with a looping leading edge over cover, but then went into white-ball mode, smashing 32 of the 33 runs in the 10th-wicket partnership, the biggest since the opening stand. Buttler fell, inevitably, playing one slog too many but had reduced the deficit to 168.
In the final session, a calm overcame the day for the first time. India’s openers had license to play strokes and find form, and had soon brought up 50 in as many balls. Stokes bowled Rahul, his first wicket of the match, while Rashid bamboozled Shikhar Dhawan. But they ploughed on, building their lead. They probably already have enough, but they could go on and on yet.