A familiar script unfolded on day four of the first Test at Trent Bridge with Joe Root acting as the glue of an England batting line-up prone to spontaneous combustion. India dealt two telling strikes promptly in the morning session and kept drilling holes with zealous uniformity, but interspersed between the tumbling of wickets were Root’s resolute blocks and gobsmackingly good cover drives that helped England set the tourists a meaty target of 209. India wiped out 52 of those runs at the heavy cost of in-form KL Rahul for 26, yet the visitors have a genuine shot at a win if someone from their ranks could rise to the occasion as Root did earlier in the day.
There were a few moments so symptomatic of a man in the nervous nineties, as India opted for leg-before referrals in vain, before a stride forward and a gun-barrel straight presentation of the willow took Root to the coveted milestone. Not someone who generally wears his heart on his sleeve, he let escape a roar and thumped his chest to celebrate a bare-knuckle effort that put England in pole position after the not-so-rosy turn of events in the opening hour.
For a welcome change, the sun was shining bright at Trent Bridge but India’s fervent discipline didn’t allow England to make any hay whatsoever. Less than 20 minutes into the day’s action, Rory Burns got a wobble-seamer from Mohammed Siraj that veered 0.9 degrees away to draw the edge. Bumrah made it a double whammy as he lured Zak Crawley into poking at a ball he could have offered judgement to. The curator of England’s second-highest maiden ton 12 months ago now stood at the other end of the spectrum with an average of 11.14 in Tests this year.
Standing between India and glory at that juncture, it seemed, were the rain gods and Root, the messiah sandwiched between batsmen woefully light on confidence. The English skipper was quick off the blocks, leaning purposefully into overcooked lengths even as Sibley went about his attritional ways. Lucky to survive through a couple of near run-outs, the opener had an lbw shout overturned on the virtue of height as the duo forged an 89-run partnership to dwarf the deficit down to nought. The alliance was a soothing balm for the nerves jangling in England’s dressing room.
The entwining of their contrasting methods – Sibley scored just nine off 56 balls as Root glided from zero to fifty off 68 balls – meant England were the happier camp heading into lunch at 119 for two, with a 24-run lead in the bag. Although India were guilty of dishing out far too many half-volleys in search of swing, the nicks when they came either didn’t carry or ran past gully. India also burnt a review on Root when Ravindra Jadeja persuaded his captain to send the call upstairs only to find the impact well outside off.
Special Moment. Special Innings. Special Player. 💯
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) August 7, 2021
In the pre-match pressers, Virat Kohli had spoken about “relentless madness” as the bedrock upon which victories in England would be laid. Indian seamers swore by the guiding principle after the meal break and benefitted from an inexplicable waft by Sibley, of all people. Having lumbered to 28 off 132 balls, he fenced at an inducker pitched short of good length to tickle an inside edge through to an acrobatic Rishabh Pant. Sibley became only the third Englishman after Haseeb Hameed and Michael Vaughan in this century to have faced more balls in a Test innings without passing 30 runs.
Sibley’s prudence was replaced at the crease by Jonny Bairstow’s flamboyance as England’s lead moved ahead at the rate of knots. Bairstow scored at 3.6 runs per over with a false shot percentage of 12 to raise a quickfire 30, but walked right into a bumper trap as he ended up nailing a pull straight down Jadeja’s throat at deep square leg.
Reverse swing arrived at the party in the 64th over of the third innings, bringing the downfall of Dan Lawrence who had motored to 25 with four hits to the fence. The youngster played outside the line and exposed his pads in the process as Shardul Thakur barged into the wickets column. Still, at tea, the contest was deliciously poised with England stretching their lead to 140 and five wickets left in the tank. In the thick of it all was Root, the epitome of elegant enterprise, picking up neat runs to whizz past the tallies of Javed Miandad and Inzamam-ul-Haq in Tests.
The commentators felt Thakur had been underexploited by Kohli hitherto and it proved to be an astute claim, with the under-fire Jos Buttler shouldering arms to an inducker to hear the death rattle. Having registered three figures shortly after Buttler’s faux pas, Root joined forces with India’s nemesis, Sam Curran, to hammer home the advantage. But the second new ball injected fresh life into the contest.
Bumrah hit the deck hard and got one to straighten enough to graze Root’s bat, and with the big fish in the net, India’s sole objective was to prevent England’s tail wagging. Bumrah was up to the task, hustling Curran on the pull for 32, an extent of damage India would take any day of the week given the southpaw’s penchant for pyrotechnics. Stuart Broad was floored by a toe-crusher first ball as Bumrah notched up his sixth five-wicket haul since 2018, next best only to Jason Holder.
Mohammed Shami dinged Ollie Robinson on the helmet before he miscued an agricultural swipe to fly slip as England were rolled out for 303, leaving them with 25 overs to have a crack at India under fading light.
Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul didn’t always look at home against the mind-conditioned Dukes, hopping and fending awkwardly to neutralize the steep bounce, but they stuck to the golden virtues of defending straight and scoring square in England. It appeared as if the openers would steer India safely to stumps. Broad, however, had other ideas.
The stalwart probed in the corridor of uncertainty and Rahul obliged, offering a feather as India lost their top-scorer from the first innings. There was further alarm when England reviewed a caught-behind verdict unsuccessfully off Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara’s inside-edge fell in no man’s land, but India managed to hold their nerve as they stand 157 adrift of what could be their maiden triumph in a Test series opener in England since 1986.