The “crucial first hour” became a frustrating first hour and then a compelling second as England and India battled with each other and the weather for supremacy on the morning of the third day at Trent Bridge. But in the afternoon, as the changeable conditions temporarily eased and the watery apocalypse threatened for the whole country morphed into liquidy sunshine, at least in Nottingham, India took control, and a slender lead at lunch grew into something altogether more significant.
Even a belated 620th Test wicket for Jimmy Anderson, that took him past Anil Kumble to third in the all-time bowlers’ list and a thoroughly deserved first five-wicket haul for Ollie Robinson in only his second Test, could not shake the feeling that they were back under high pressure despite the low-pressure system that finished off the day much as it had started.
That feeling had its genesis in Ravi Jadeja’s audacious counterattack when he found himself left with a lengthy lower order early in the afternoon – and the same lengthy lower order belying its reputation with some effective and entertaining slogging. That demoralised England, whose morale had been raised by Anderson’s swift dismissal of Shardul Thakur moments after finally extracting KL Rahul for his record-making moment.
The day had dawned remarkably clear considering the meteorological consensus, but the first delay came only eight minutes in, almost before Anderson and Robinson had had a chance to iron out their sinews. Anderson had just finished probably the longest over of his career – and certainly his first spread over three sessions and two days. His next, his 15th, fared better – the gap this time was only 57 minutes – as, after a couple of false starts, play finally got back underway at 12.05pm.
Even then, more spots of rain threatened to halt things after five balls, the umpires, supposedly the sole arbiters of such things, oddly keen to usher the teams back off again and reversing their decision only after seeming to take on board quite vigorous opposing opinions from Anderson and Rahul.
It was all very stop-start, slightly reminiscent of an Australian Covid lockdown.
Not that Rishabh Pant takes much notice of such things. He is a force of nature all his own and he had intimated before the rain set in on the second afternoon that he would take on all-comers. He emphasised the point by running down the wicket to Anderson to nullify his swing and leathering him on the up wide of mid-off for four; he puts bums on seats and then immediately shifts them to the edge of them.
A big yahoo to a Robinson short one brought him a fortunate top-edged six but after 20 balls that had yielded 25 runs, and left India adrift of England’s first innings 183 by only 38, he played too early outside off to the same bowler and popped up a catch to short extra.
Rahul, a man who had largely reined in own attacking instincts for several hours, was joined by Jadeja, another who relishes the feel of bat on ball but they declined to build on the momentum supplied by Pant and conscientiously guided India to an eight-run interval lead with no further loss.
England had an immediate chance to end Rahul’s resistance in the first over after lunch, bowled by Anderson from a Radcliffe Road End that had realised the wickets in successive balls of Che Pujara and Virak Kohli on day two but the batsman’s awful shot brought an equally awful attempt to catch from Joe Root at first slip and he survived. Having seen Dom Sibley put the same batsman down at second slip the day before, Anderson was entitled to think he would be stuck alongside Kumble on 619 wickets for some considerable time, but he did not have long to wait, finally inducing a thinner edge that Jos Buttler couldn’t possibly spill.
Rahul had batted beautifully, especially elegant through the offside on front or back foot, and deserved his 80 – not bad from a third-choice opener. When Shakur edged Anderson soon afterwards, Root’s dive low to his left to take the catch mitigated for his earlier error.
But now Jadeja opened up, and the runs flowed – some deliberate, others the result of good fortune – and it didn’t help that Stuart Broad continued to look off colour and Sam Curran ineffective. Broad was especially disappointing at a time when England really needed a reminder of his finest hour – his eight for 15 against Australia – of which it was the sixth anniversary.
Jadeja went to his fifty from 81 balls with a deft cut for four off Robinson, equally impressive in its way as his best shot of the day, a pick-up from Anderson that cleared square leg as an inswinger found its way perfectly into his arc outside leg stump. But he fell skying Robinson to Broad running back at mid-off: 232 for eight, the lead 49 and the Sussex seamer had a third wicket for a sterling effort.
England were now desperate to finish off the tail but Mohammed Shami swung effectively, and Jasprit Bumrah even more so.
Bumrah had previously accured only 43 runs from 30 innings at an average of 2.26 but, here, an excellent clip through mid-wicket got him going and a swipe off Curran that dropped just over Dan Lawrence at deep square leg revealed a new-found confidence. When he was excellently caught by Broad at long leg to give Robinson his fifth scalp – a mature response from the seamer to his suspension over less mature tweets – he had hit 28 from 34 balls and, with Mohammed Siraj, added 33 for the final wicket in 4.2 overs.
It left England’s fragile batting line-up to mull over a 95-run deficit when at one point it might not have been much more than 40 – potentially crucial in what is destined to be a low-scoring contest.
Nevertheless, they negotiated six overs before tea and 5.1 overs after it before the rain returned. The umpires initiated a couple of resumptions, first for 5.45pm and then for 6.10, but before the covers could be properly removed, further squalls got in the way. Shortly after 6.15 play was abandoned for the day and England resume on day four 70 short of making Indian bat again – weather permitting.