India seemed to have left their A-game in Vizag, but still had enough wherewithal to win the honours on Day 1 of the third Test against England at Mohali. The Indian bowlers made up for the shoddy fielding early on and have the visitors in a tight spot - eight wickets down for 268 - at stumps. Put it down to disciplined bowling by Ravichandran Ashwin and Co, or lack of application by the England batsmen, Alastair Cook's team is clearly on the back foot, and that doesn't augur well for them, especially when they are trailing in the series.
However, while the day would have ended far better for India, had the fieldsmen not suddenly remembered that they had to play good hosts and be generous with the English, it would have been far worse for the visitors, had a certain Jonny Bairstow not turned up.
The England wicketkeeper-batsman had played a knock of immense character in the second Test at Vizag, providing valuable support to Ben Stokes in his effort to rebuild the team first innings which was in tatters at 80/5. He carried his form to Mohali, the only difference being, at Mohali, he was the lead actor, putting up 57 runs with Stokes and then, 69 with Jos Buttler, who had been drafted into the side in place of the struggling Ben Duckett. Reduced to 87/4, England reached some sort of respectability at the end of the day owing to those partnerships. When the team has just about got past 250, those partnerships are worth their weight in gold.
However, as the teams left for their hotel, Virat Kohli's boys would, without a shadow of a doubt, be the happier lot, knowing that all they need to do is to keep England under 300, and then look to put up a substantial score the board. On the other hand, it would be tough for England to sustain till 300, though it is what they would want to achieve at all costs, given that only the tailenders are at the crease.
The ball had turned on Day 1 itself, and the pitch promises to be another typical India pitch, and even if it is not as difficult to bat on as it was when it last hosted a Test match - between India and South Africa at around the same time last year - the indications are that this won't be a high-scoring contest.
Hence, it would be imperative for England on Day 2 to as many to their overnight total as possible, and then give their best shot with the ball. The absence of the injured Stuart Broad would have weakened England, but his replacement Chris Woakes is more than a capable bowler, and captain Cook would have the crafty James Anderson and the spin trio of Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali and Gareth Batty to fall back on.
Curiously, if England is shot out relatively early on Day 2, it might be a blessing in disguise for them, for that would give them a chance to exploit the initial assistance that the pitch might offer to the pacers. There will be non-regular opener to partner Murali Vijay at the start of the Indian innings, and if England can prise out at least a couple of wickets, and preferably the rock-solid Cheteshwar Pujara before lunch, it might just be the opening that they need. That would effectively throttle India's scoring, and that is what England should aim for.
It's not for the first time that England find themselves cornered in the series, and it won't be a surprise if they come out fighting, as they have done on most occasions in the series. They have to be careful not to let India gain a significant advantage on Day 2. There is still a lot of cricket still to be played in the match and there is every chance that England could stage a comeback.
First Published On : Nov 27, 2016 08:30 IST