On as superstitious a date as Friday the 13th England rather incongruously exorcised some bowling demons with a display that brought them back into the second Test, even if familiar failings in the top order must have made their followers feel they were watching a scary movie on repeat. However, Rory Burns and Joe Root – who else – tossed the out-takes to the cutting-room floor and added 85 for the third wicket in a positive stand that only left the match even more intriguingly poised when Burns fell with 20 minutes left.
Four wickets before lunch on the second day at Lord’s certainly hinted at the home team’s revival and three more after it ensured they completed it, stopping India 36 short of 400 when, beginning on 276 for three, they might have been thinking of something over 500 and batting only once in the match.
Jimmy Anderson claimed three of them to turn his overnight two for 52 into a 31st five-wicket haul – his eighth in 25 Tests at headquarters.
But a salvo from Mohammed Siraj in the first over after tea undid the good work Dominic Sibley and Rory Burns had done in the 14 overs available to them before it as he took out Sibley in the most predictable manner possible and the unfortunate Haseeb Hameed, back in the England order for the first time in five years, in successive balls.
Things might have been worse for England had they not had Root to call on – and even he survived two confident lbw shouts by Siraj that proved umpire Michael Gough correct on review but also how prized his wicket has become. From 23 for two, he and Burns found impetus through Virat Kohli’s miscalculation in bowling Siraj for one over too many, the Surrey captain visibly growing in confidence as he hit three fours in four balls and another as soon as Jasprit Bumrah replaced him at the Pavilion End.
With Root weighing in with a couple of boundaries in the intervening over, England were up and running and the fun only stopped when Mohammed Shami, operating round the wicket, angled one just inside Burns’ inside edge to trap him in front, one short of a deserved fifty. It left Jonny Bairstow, an lbw victim of Shami’s in Nottingham, a tricky period to survive in increasing gloom, which he managed in spite of a huge collective shout for a catch behind.
That India didn’t reach the heights they envisaged was down to an extraordinary start to the day as England took two wickets with the first seven balls. KL Rahul, 127 not out overnight, went to the second ball of the morning from Ollie Robinson and when Anderson opened from the other end, he dismissed Ajinkya Rahane with his first delivery.
Rahul’s dismissal was another reminder of the cruel mistress that cricket can be: increasingly fluent as his innings progressed on the first day, he seemed to switch straight back into the groove on the second, neatly tucking Robinson’s opening delivery for a regulation two behind square leg. Offered a loopy half-volley at barely 77mph outside off stump next ball, though, he leant back a little on his drive and instead of putting it away through cover for a 13th boundary, scooped it low to Dom Sibley at extra. So disappointed was he that he threw his head in the air and began arguably the most protracted walk back to the pavilion that Lord’s has possibly ever seen, one that still earned him an ovation as he neared the steps.
Rahane’s departure was more customary; he edged a ball wobbling outside off into Root’s hands low at first slip and the India vice-captain has now scored only one fifty in 15 innings since his fine century in the first innings of a winning cause against Australia in the Boxing Day Test.
England could not have asked for more than having the dashers Rishabh Pant and Ravi Jadeja at the wicket while the new ball was still barely a dozen overs old but to say they steadied the ship would be accurate only in the sense that they added what could be a crucial 49 in just under 19 overs. Away from the figures, Jadeja provided the ballast while Pant took the helm in altogether more erratic fashion that would just occasionally hint at capsize.
The latter, though, was never allowed to take the game away from the hosts in the way that we know he is capable. True, after a series of maidens, Robinson –a man whose pace peaks at around 81 or 82mph – was guilty of bowling two successive short ones to one of the quickest eyes in world cricket and was rightly punished by being pulled to the mid-wicket boundary each time, but generally the bowlers bowled a testing enough length that neither left-hander was quite able to free their arms: when Pant raced down the wicket to Anderson – as he had during the first innings at Trent Bridge to carve him wide of mid-off for four – the wily Lancastrian dug the ball in to the extent that the batsman was forced to respond with nothing more than a flamboyant leave.
Nonetheless there was always the fear that Pant could explode into life and England were indebted to Mark Wood for preventing that as the batsman paid for his static feet and edged behind for 37. It was reward for Wood, who was much more accurate for having got 16 overs under his belt the day before and he was to end the get another wicket, the last one, when Jadeja grew weary of shepherding his tail and skied him to Anderson at mid-on.
But before that Shami gave Moeen Ali a first wicket on the brink of lunch, his clip to midwicket the sixth time he has been removed by the England off spinner in 28 balls, and Ishant Sharma provided unorthodox resistance for the first half hour of the afternoon session. It took Anderson to trap him lbw and then have Bumrah caught behind off an absolute brute whereupon, with only Shiraj for company, Jadeja as good as surrendered.
The impression was that the pitch was generally getting slower and lower and that probably helped Sibley and Burns negotiate those overs up to tea, as edges from both dropped precariously close to cupped hands at slip. Sibley, indeed, got off the mark with a straight drive for four and there were also back-foot strokes to the offside that brought him two behind square and four in front to offer encouragement.
But Sibley seems worryingly vulnerable close to intervals and within two balls of the restart he had fallen victim to a sucker punch. Shami had had him held in Nottingham by posting a shortish mid-wicket and provoking him to play his favourite clip to leg; the subsequent inswinger was pushed perilously close to the outside of his hitting arc, where it is difficult for Sibley to ensure full control. This time, there was no disguising Kohli’s plan as he brought in three men on the leg-side for the shot, Siraj served up the offering and Sibley accepted, guiding to Rahul and leaving Sibley to swipe the grass in frustration on his way off.
A hush fell over the ground as Hameed, so successful in that brief three-Test career in India in 2016 but for whom little has gone right since – at least until the Bolton-born batsman fled his native Lancashire for Trent Bridge – that you could almost reach out and touch the crowd’s need for his redemption now that he has turned from schoolboyish 19-year-old into shaggy-haired 23-year old, h beard and ponytail to match. If that has been the feeling among those following his progress, imagine how it has been for the man himself, left alone with his thoughts for five sessions before he got the chance to bat.
In the end, in one of those moments when sport tends to freeze, he missed a full straight one as Siraj motored in, flying through his run-up on pure adrenaline. As John Arlott said when Derek Randall was run out by Geoff Boycott in front of a full crowd on Randall’s home ground at Trent Bridge in 1977: “Tragedy, tragedy, tragedy,” – and it was, insofar as anything in sport can be that important.
In truth, the return felt a little too early for a man still rediscovering himself in the game. Yes, he may have hit three first-class centuries and four fifties this season – plus a hundred in a One-Day Cup game – but he was hurried into the team by default because of the failures of others not the sagging weight of his own runs. Anyone with a heart will hope for something better in the second innings.
Root was the perfect man to face the hat-trick and duly saw it off and he continued in the vein of his two efforts that brought him 64 and perhaps one of his finest centuries in the first Test.
There was a sumptuous cover drive, a couple of clips to deep square and fine leg as Siraj seemed to focus on a leg-stump line and a funky leg-side field but it took Burns to really get England going.
That he fell at a time when England seemed to have ridden the initial storm – and Burns had really found his feet – will have been a huge disappointment, but Root was still there at the close, two runs short of a third fifty in the series.
It is of the utmost importance that he and Jonny Bairstow do not give India the boost that the tourists’ batsmen gave England this morning when the action resume. By taking seven wickets for 88 today and reaching 119 for three by the close, they banished the date’s fabled superstition to where it belongs and, on day three, must concentrate on inflicting a measure of horror on their opponents.