Fortune’s pendulum swung this way and that as Test cricket once again stepped up to prove that amidst a sea of over-hyped short form mediocrity, it can serve up a feast for true cricket fans. Until rain or bad light intervenes that is and the feast is reduced to a snack.
Much had quite rightly been written about England’s dire performance with the bat yesterday, collapsing to 183 all out. It is important to acknowledge, however, that in helpful conditions, India’s world-class attack was, well, world class. England’s more senior world-class strike duo had not really hit their straps last night in response and Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul, neither of whom have had a surfeit of red ball preparation, saw India safely to 21 without loss.
The morning of day two at Trent Bridge was all but done with England continuing to be frustrated with the ball. A second review had been burned. Rohit and Rahul mastered the conditions and anything that Jimmy Anderson, Ollie Robinson and a worryingly out-of-sorts Stuart Broad could propel at them. Progress was steady rather than exhilarating, but a solid platform to surpass England and potentially bat them out the game was being built. In reaching 97, the batsmen achieved India’s best opening stand in England since 2007, when Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik put on 147.
India were squarely in the box seat, England’s attack increasingly frustrated, the crowd appreciative but subdued. But midway through the 38th over, Robinson dug one in to Rohit, who momentarily succumbed to white-ball red mist and hooked down the throat of Sam Curran at long leg. England’s lunch will have tasted that bit better; India’s scarcely unpalatable, but just not quite as lip-smacking as it might have been.
An over each after lunch for Anderson and Robinson produced little except a reprieve for Pujara who was given out lbw offering no shot in a rare error of judgement by Michael Gough, who had to overturn his decision on height. There were clear signs, however, that the older ball was likely to offer the bowlers encouragement and in Anderson, England have the arch exploiter of such opportunities.
The 41st over begun with an inswinger that KL Rahul couldn’t lay a bat on, but his thigh sent the ball far enough to take a single. The next to Pujara, was a masterly inswinger that then seamed away. Pujara prodded forward and tickled an edge to Buttler, who took it low, diving forward. A quick check that it carried and Pujara had to go, for just four.
Captain Kohli entered and then immediately exited again as a fuller ball that held its line was again edged to Buttler. Kohli ended the 2018 tour with a first baller and begun this tour in the same manner. His encounters with Anderson continue to provide fabulous theatre.
Not only was Jimmy on a hat-trick, the wicket of Kohli was his 619th, putting him level with Anil Kumble, third on the all-time Test list. The hat-trick wasn’t to be however, despite the presence of four slips, gully, short extra-cover, leg gully and short leg, all roared on by a Trent Bridge crowd at fever pitch.
Ajinkya Rahane never really settled and should have been run out without scoring, but Dan Lawrence’s throw missed by a whisker and to add insult to England injury went for four overthrows. His death-wish continued though and when Rahul took one step out but immediately called “no”, Rahane was already yards down the wicket to meet him and an accurate Jonny Bairstow throw did the rest. Remarkably it was Rahane’s fourth run-out in his last thirty-three Test partnerships.
England tails were up, fortune had smiled on them. The crowd were rocking (in a good way); India were rocking too, in not such a good way.
Pant looked to regain some initiative, charging Anderson in the process. How very dare he? Rahul was dropped by Dom Sibley at second slip to deny Anderson what would have been his 620th Test wicket. Another night on the naughty step for Dom.
But then came a combination of weather and high farce. Dark clouds gathered, the rain started, the umpires conferred and off they went. Then back they came – for one non-eventful delivery and then off again. But there was still hope. Another resumption lasted all of two deliveries this time, both runless, before they went off once more. If any TV or radio station is looking for a new weather presenter, don’t call Messrs Kettleborough or Gough.
India finished on 125 for four, trailing by 58 runs. The game had burst magnificently to life only to fizzle out in a way that neither it nor Anderson deserved. Rahul had survived for a resolute 57 and will resume with Pant.
The blue touch-paper has been well and truly lit and with Pant at the crease and England on the hunt, fireworks are possible. Unless doused by clouds as dark as the Nottingham mines that once produced famous fast bowlers hereabouts.