England started the second Test with Alastair Cook losing an important toss followed by 90 overs of hard toil as India reached 317 for four. Cook and Co showed little sign of bowling wicket-taking deliveries on a regular basis, and it was a long, long day for the visitors as India batted brilliantly.
The position of Adil Rashid in this England team was further cemented as this match got under way in Visakhapatnam. His opportunities in all formats have increased since Trevor Bayliss took over as England coach, but there has been a reluctance from Cook to bowl him in Test cricket in the past. A lot of that has been Rashid’s fault, he has bowled too many bad balls too regularly, and the captain has had to remove him from the attack or think twice about when he will bowl him. At times Rashid has been seen as an afterthought rather than a first choice wicket-taking threat.
Rashid bowled badly in Bangladesh, and while he claimed seven wickets in the two Tests, he was going at almost four an over throughout. On the first day in Visakhapatnam, he bowled 26 overs and conceded just 3.26 runs an over. Only James Anderson had a better economy rate and no England bowler was given more overs. By the time the England captain had asked Moeen Ali to come into the attack, Rashid had bowled 12 overs, when in the past this has been the other way around. The confidence in the Yorkshire leg spinner was justified as he was the best of England’s three spinners throughout the day, despite going wicketless.
The day had started off well for England, with both Indian openers dismissed early on. The first to go was KL Rahul. Brought back into the team in place of Gautam Gambhir, having recovered from the hamstring injury that saw him lose his place in September, Rahul looked short of match practice as well as a tad nervous. He eventually fell poking at a ball from Stuart Broad that was well caught by Ben Stokes at third slip.
Murali Vijay joined his fellow opener in the dressing room when he was dismissed by James Anderson, who was back in the Test team for the first time since August, replacing Chris Woakes. The intention of the England think-tank was always to rotate their seamers, and Woakes was the only quick bowler to have played all three Tests this winter. There was talk of him having a bit of a niggle in the lead up to this Test, but the reason given for leaving him out was that he needed a rest. As England had their leading wicket taker foaming at the mouth at the prospect of playing cricket again, it wouldn’t have been a hard choice. Anderson’s three wickets on a surface that gave him nothing showed his worth. He really is special.
The ball that Anderson got Vijay with was a superbly directed bouncer that was fended to Stokes at third slip off his gloves. He did not look comfortable against the short ball, and that will be something the English seamers will have noted with interest. Before he got out, Vijay had looked in superb touch, driving elegantly through the covers and down the ground, but his wicket left India 25 for two.
From that point onward, it was all about India’s batting as Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara both made hundreds in a partnership that was worth 226 runs.
England had plans against the Indian batsmen, it was just that they were either not good enough to turn them into more wickets or the Indians were too good to let them. Ben Stokes had a clear strategy to bowl short and into the body of Kohli in the hope of him pulling in the air to the fine leg boundary. When Kohli was on 56, he did exactly that. Rashid was the fielder and seemed to pick it up late. He dove forward but couldn’t hold on to a very tough chance. It was far from easy, but dropping Kohli once he has passed 50 is about as wise as jumping into a pit of cobras wearing a suit made out of mice.
The only moment of respite that England had in the 61.4 overs that Pujara and Kohli were together was when one of the many stray dogs that call Vizag their home made it on to the outfield. Back in August this year, 13 people were bitten by stray dogs in the city in one day, so with that in mind it was understandable that the players were reluctant to get involved in the removal of this canine nuisance. Instead we had the sight of the stewards chasing the dog who was having a great time darting past them. As the dog happily pottered around the outfield, the players wandered off for an early tea. It seemed that the dog had more chance of removing these batsmen from the crease than England’s bowlers.
The England spinners, Rashid included, dragged it down to give the Indian batsmen short balls to hit too often, especially after tea. Both Moeen and Zafar Ansari conceded more than four an over as they were milked for runs. The fears before this tour about the ability of England's group of bowlers to claim 20 Indian wickets in a Test are as real now as then. But they all did better than they had in Bangladesh.
When Pujara was dismissed for an excellent 119 it came from an uncharacteristically loose shot. Since his return to the Test team, Pujara is less of a plodder than in the past, and in this innings he went past 100 with a towering six off Rashid, but he is no flashy driver outside off stump. He got a thick edge off the bowling of Anderson that was caught by Jonny Bairstow behind the stumps.
Beyond the fact that India have made 317 runs in the day with Kohli undefeated on 151, there are some other concerns for England for the rest of this match. There was little in this surface for their seamers with either conventional of reverse swing. The odd ball drifted in a little with reverse swing, but the lush outfield meant it wasn’t a big threat. Then in the evening session a ball from Rashid bounced and turned and in the next over a delivery from Anderson kept low. If that happens with any regularity when India are bowling it could mean real trouble for England.
England weren’t at their best, but their weren’t awful. When you don’t play that badly and still find yourselves a long way behind on the first day of a match, you can only signal your appreciation of how well your opponents performed.