This was England’s perfect day. Unlike Lou Reed, they weren’t drinking sangria in the park. But after the horror show of Lord’s, they were putting on a masterclass of ruthless cricket with both bat and ball – one that has left them in a hugely dominant position after day one at Headingley.
As the coin went up at 10.30 am, the sun was bravely trying to shine its way through the Yorkshire clouds, but here was plenty to encourage pace bowlers. Virat Kohli it was who called correctly and despite that encouragement for his gun seamers, was not of a mind to relinquish the potential advantages of getting runs on the board first.
Joe Root, was happy enough to not expose his new top three combination of Rory Burns, Haseeb Hameed and the restored Dawid Malan to a fired-up Indian pace attack and felt that conditions would improve for batsmen towards day two anyway. The proverbial good toss to lose. And of course, with Jimmy Anderson at his disposal, Root will have known he was in with a chance of early wickets and so it proved.
The Burnley master craftsmen seemed to be almost sniffing the air and eying the clouds in anticipation of a feast and within ten overs he had wolfed starter, main course and desert in the form of KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara and prize delicacy Virat Kohli.
Despite plenty of movement in the air and nibble off the seam, KL attempted a booming drive of just his fourth ball. It was wide and could have been left. Instead, it nestled, not for the last time, into the gloves of Jos Buttler.
Pujara’s 45 at Lord’s had probably kept him in the side, but there was no repeat here as his edge was found by an Anderson outswinger and again Buttler tidily completed his demise. Kohli is not a man to take a backward step, but he will have been seething after an attempted drive through mid-off, played well in front of his body, edged to Buttler, who was already having a busy day behind the stumps. Definitely advantage Anderson with Jimmy relying on his bowling rather than verbal skills to exemplary effect on this occasion.
Rohit and Rahane looked to see off the new ball and restore some control to India’s wobbly wagon, putting on 35 together, but England were in a mood to put right here everything that was awry at the home of cricket. Principally that involved bowling full at the stumps and allowing the swing and seam to do its work.
They were craving a fourth wicket before lunch and it was duly delivered when Ollie Robinson drew a flirtatious off stump fiddle from Rahane and Buttler (who else?) did the rest. Off to lunch with England cock a hoop and India pensive and somewhat bruised. Three for Anderson, one for Robinson and all caught by Jos Buttler.
If India’s lunchtime team talk was about asserting some form control in the afternoon, on this occasion, Kohli’s words did not hit the mark. By 2.55 pm India were all out for 78, the third lowest total in Tests against England and the sixth lowest Test score at Headingley. Their last six wickets tumbled for just 22 runs. The wagging tail that had tormented England at Lord’s hung rather limply between back legs in Yorkshire.
The site of Rishabh Pant at the crease, even in a “backs to the wall” situation, can strike fear into a bowling side, but within three overs of the restart, he had edged Robinson to Buttler for his fifth consecutive catch. Rohit had looked like he might be the boy on the burning deck, but he went in uncharacteristic fashion looking to drag a pull off Craig Overton from outside off and instead, looped the easiest of catches to Robinson at mid-on.
Shami came and immediately went, taken by Burns at third slip. Two in two for Overton, but Ishant Sharma survived the hat-trick ball. Sam Curran came late to the party but had deserved a wicket or two and indeed two it was – like Overton in consecutive balls. Jadeja was lbw on review for four, the only question being if there had been a faint inside edge on to pad. Bumrah went next ball, also reviewing, but with little hope of success as the ball would have crashed into leg stump.
Surely Ishant and Mohammed Siraj couldn’t pull India to three figures and upwards, could they? England fans are used to fearing the worst, but Siraj edged high to first slip where Root leapt to take the type of catch that might have wriggled away on other days. But not this one.
There was certainly something in the wicket and the air to help the seamers, but England’s attack had been accurate, relentless and ruthless in blowing India away. They were led, of course, by the ageless Anderson with three for six off eight overs, but Robinson, Overton and Curran all followed his lead superbly.
Having decimated India for 78, it is the sad lot of many English cricket fans to fear a similar collapse from their team. After all, the England top order has been distinctly wobbly of late and the remodelled version has it all to prove.
It has been over a year and 12 Test matches since an England opening pair registered a hundred stand. But somehow, when it is your day, it’s your day. Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed were buoyed. The Indian bowlers bowed – the pep and fire of Lord’s simply not there.
Ishant, over-stretching in the attempt to strike early, delivered a nine-ball first over with two no balls and wide. However Kohli shuffled his pack, Burns and Hameed were up to it, starting steadily and accelerating in a way that Dom Sibley had rarely been able to as India’s frustrations grew.
Working the ball tidily but without risk they had eased passed India’s total after just 30 overs and having done so, became more expansive in taking England to a dream 120 at the close with a lead of 42 and all 10 first wickets standing. Hameed just shaded Burns in the race to fifty, although it was through the slips, just evading the dive of Rohit Sharma. It doesn’t matter how you get there.
Burns even swatted Siraj over deep square leg for six to heat up the already bubbling party atmosphere of the Western Terrace. This immediately after India had finally persuaded umpire Richard Kettleborough that a replacement ball was needed.
The way both Burns and Hameed celebrated their fifties was in the manner of men clearly feeling that the job is only partly done. England will want to create a position of even greater dominance tomorrow that even they can’t concede.
However, we know Kohli has a team of fighters that can roll with punches and come back swinging. They will need to do that from the off tomorrow.