Review day one, final Test: no spitting cobra but England still find snakes in the longer grass

Football managers, usually just before they’re fired, tend to face TV cameras and bravely talk about “taking the positives” from any game in which they have just slumped to defeat. I’m not for a moment suggesting anyone is in line for firing in the England camp, nor that defeat is in any way certain in Ahmedabad. However, there was an air of inevitability about England’s submission to the spin of Ravi Ashwin, Axar Patel and Washington Sundar, who claimed eight wickets between them, with the impressive Mohammed Siraj taking a particularly liking to Yorkshiremen with his two scalps.

England again had shown flashes of resistance, but all-too-familiar failings and excuses are hard to make. They had won the toss. The ball was red, not pink. The pitch, whilst offering some bounce and turn, was hardly a twin-headed cobra. England had stiffened their lower-order batting. Yet they still fell to 205 all out, five overs before a second new ball would have been due.

The positives were that Ben Stokes and Dan Lawrence resisted with commendable fortitude but both fell short of match-defining totals, Stokes on 55, to yet another arm ball that didn’t turn and Lawrence on 46, when a rush of blood to a head that had hitherto been a model of calmness led him to inexplicably charge Axar Patel, leaving Pant an age in which to tip off his bails.

Johnny Bairstow rode his luck and avoided a third consecutive duck, but fell to a Siraj in-ducker on 28, just as it looked as though he might have been out of the woods. Ollie Pope, also fighting the demons of dodgy form, picked his way carefully to 29 from 87 balls, but Ashwin, for the third successive time, had his number and induced a bat-pad that lobbed to Shubman Gill at short leg.

The rest of England’s batting was poor, perhaps predictably so as much as England fans had hoped for better. Even Joe Root, the rock upon which first Test victory was built, looked sketchy and skittish before being pinned on the crease by Siraj for just five.

Come the close, Jimmy Anderson had bowled the most frugal of five-over spells, conceding not a single run and snagging Gill lbw into the bargain. Jack Leach bowled four wicketless overs that suggested he will profit more as the pitch wears, but his economy rate of 4.00 was close to double that of his Indian counterparts and this, when India were more in a mode of battening down hatches than carrying the fight to the bowlers.

Dom Bess bowled just one curate’s egg of an over that illustrated both the promise and frustration that torments England’s management. One ball turned and beat the bat, but his first ball was a no-ball and he also dragged down two horrible half trackers. The word “yips” was darkly muttered by at least one of my commentary colleagues. One hopes for Dom that his chirpy personality can see him through what is clearly a challenging time.

When all was said and done for the day, opinions seemed divided amongst our followers on whether England were above, below, or on par. Speaking after the match, Ben Stokes thought 300 should have been well within England’s range and that opportunity had once again knocked but been spurned.

One other notable discussion point of the day, was an unseemly spat between Siraj and Stokes. A pumped up Siraj bowled a fiery bouncer to Stokes after dismissing Joe Root and gave a confident stare but that did not go well with the England star. Virat Kohli saw fit to step in and play the role of protective father after Stokes had allegedly aimed some choice words in the direction of his sensitive son. Nitin Menon was momentarily like a boxing referee stepping between fighters, arm outstretched. All parties later played down the incident in a classic case of “what happens on the field stays on the field” and although it will garner clickbait news interest, it should quickly pass and we will all be better for that.

Have England’s victory chances passed is the bigger question? India, who sit overnight on 24 for one, have not lost a home series, nor lost two Tests in a home series since 2012. All smart money will be heading their way, but hope does remain for England. Early wickets and calm heads may keep them in with a sniff…just.