Test cricket is having a funny series. At Edgbaston it provided an absorbing, low-scoring classic, and was painted in rude health for England’s 1,000th Test. Lord’s, and its one-sided contest saw the obituaries prepared and India’s lack of preparation bemoaned. It was back in form here, with a back-and-forth day that saw India’s batsmen assert themselves as a unit for the first time this series, and not a minute too soon.
All eyes were on Ben Stokes but, besides a solid catch to dismiss Kohli, he had a poor day and looked like he was straining too hard for a performance to justify his instant reintroduction. He bowled a little wildly, and hassled his captain into an unwise review. Instead, it was Chris Woakes who was most vital for England.
India began the day by being put in under leaden skies at a favourite ground of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, a situation fraught with danger. They battled hard, though, and through gritty innings of 97 from Virat Kohli and 81 from Ajinkya Rahane they hold the whip hand at 307 for six, despite losing Hardik Pandya to the day’s final ball. They have been bowled out for under 200 in seven of their last eight innings in England, so this represented a significant victory.
England had the best of the morning session, thanks mainly to a witless piece of batting from Che Pujara at its very end. Woakes took a gamble in his final over before lunch, throwing in a speculative short ball that he will have anticipated being ignored. Instead, Pujara pulled, with precision, to Adil Rashid in the deep. He barely had to move.
That was Woakes’s third wicket, after he ended an opening stand of 60 – at that stage, India’s highest partnership of the series – by dismissing both openers in successive overs with tidy swing bowling. He found Shikhar Dhawan’s outside edge, which travelled fast to second slip, then beat KL Rahul’s inside edge. He was persuaded to review the lbw decision by Pujara, but it always looked out.
Pujara’s wicket six overs later saw England leave the field buoyed. The sun came out while they ate, the ball had aged and the morning swing dulled. Rahane and Kohli made hay, sharing 159, including a wicketless afternoon session, the first they have emphatically won for more than a fortnight. Rashid was dealt with severely, while Stokes resorted to bouncers in search of a breakthrough, it did not come.
England plugged away, but were a little careless; on 57, Rahane was dropped one-handed by the diving James Anderson at backward point off Woakes. They were unable to build maiden after maiden and lacked a little variety. You know, like an in-form left-armer. Meanwhile, Sam Curran spent his afternoon zipping south to play for Surrey in the Championship on Sunday.
Having looked utterly untroubled on their way to centuries, both batsmen were dismissed by peculiar instances. Rahane drove hard at Broad, and edged hard between keeper and slip. When the ball appeared to be past him, a stuck out his left hand and the ball settled in it. Cook looked as surprised as everyone else, and celebrated with vigour. Kohli moved to within three of his second century of the series before going after a loopy turner from Adil Rashid. The faint edge went straight to Stokes at slip. Rashid was brought into skittle the tail, but he has dismissed Kohli twice this series. Handy.
With the new ball four overs away, the door was ajar for England. Rishabh Pant, on debut, did not notice. Rashid tossed one up to him too, and he deposited his second ball down the ground and into the seats in front of the old Pavilion for a cleanly-struck six, becoming the first Indian to get off the mark in Test cricket in the process.
He was smart enough to survive until stumps too, which against Anderson and Broad with a new ball is not a totally straightforward exercise. He is 20 and has made his name playing T20, as that stroke hinted at. But his first-class average is 54.5, he has a triple-century, and bags of promise to go with it. He looked particularly lovely through point, and we should have plenty of fun watching him over the years.
Pant was chanceless, but his partner Hardik Pandya was not and he eventually became unstuck, caught at second slip to the last ball of the day, taking Jimmy Anderson to 100 Test wickets against India.
Anderson and Broad will resume in the morning, armed with a ball just seven overs old and one wicket away from the bunnies. India are on top, but every time they looked like really pulling away, England pegged them back. If they have designs on finishing India this week, they must peg them back further on the second morning.