Cricket

India vs England: Day of Indian dominance clouded by debris of Internet debate on pitches

  • Yash Jha
  • February 15th, 2021
  • 8:33:56 IST

Day Two of the second Test began with Rohit Sharma resting on his superb batsmanship to set the tone for India, with the hope that the four remaining wickets could build on the already imposing overnight score of 300/6.

Day Two of the second Test ended with Rohit Sharma back on the crease, having occupied it for another 18 overs.

In between, England met their most dreaded fate: bowled out for 134, inside 60 overs — their shortest-ever first innings in a Test in India.

Five sessions into the second of the back-to-back Chennai rubbers, England’s effort from five days of the opening game had been neutralised.

It’s been a strange first 45 days of Test cricket in 2021, yes. But with India leading by 249 runs, with nine wickets in hand, at a crumbling Chepauk, with three days left to play — it all seems a little inevitable.

India's Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara during Day 2 of the second Test match between India and England held at the Chidambaram Stadium Stadium in Chennai. Sportzpics for BCCI

India's Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara during Day 2 of the second Test match between India and England held at the Chidambaram Stadium Stadium in Chennai. Sportzpics for BCCI

The takeaways from a day of great Indian dominance, and greater Internet debate:

Pitch wars: An all-too-familiar narrative

This second Test has found itself having an eerie resemblance to the second Test of the previous series contested between these teams.

Back then, too, the hosts had won a seemingly-significant toss in conditions perceived to be loaded in their favour. Back then, too, the visitors crumbled in a heap.

If Chepauk 2021 is a dustbowl, Lord’s 2018 was a bed of green that wouldn’t have been too out-of-place seven miles away from the home of cricket at Wimbledon.

But when India subsided to 107 all out in 35.2 overs, on their way to a mauling by an innings and 159 runs, in a match where they only lasted 82.2 overs across both their innings, the only post-mortems sought were into India’s ability.

Furthermore, this is what the Indian captain had to say after the game: “... credit to England, they were clinical… You have to counter the conditions as and when they come to you, can’t crib about these things. Sometimes the rub of the green will go your way too. Won’t sit around and say that we didn’t have the best of conditions.”

The problem, if it exists at all, isn’t in what has been said, or what will be said. The problem is the convenience of the narrative.

That Lord’s Test of 2018 lasted 170.3 overs; the Edgbaston Test preceding it had finished in 273. If the concern lies in a certain type of pitch not being conducive to five-day cricket, chew on this, as brilliantly brought out on Twitter: 43 percent of Tests in India since 2014 have finished inside 300 overs, with the corresponding number for Tests in England standing at 39 percent.

Delve deeper, and in terms of Tests ending in less than 250 overs, matches in England actually outweigh those in India over the last seven years: Ten out of 41 cases in England, five out of 23 in India.

Taking on from what Shane Warne asked of Michael Vaughan during their Twitter tussle on Sunday, why is it that a seaming pitch is ‘sporting’, and a spinning surface ‘shocking’?

Root’s rare failure headlines Axar’s accurate debut

Joe Root loves sweeping. That had been well-established through the first outing at Chepauk.

Against left-arm spin, even well before his sub-continental sweeping spectacle of 2021, Root had been invincible in executing his favoured stroke. 2017 was the last time Root was dismissed sweeping a slow left-armer in a Test; he had accrued 216 undefeated runs since.

For a debutant to end that streak is special enough. That Axar Patel deserved that scalp — his maiden Test wicket, no less — was evidenced through his first red-ball outing for India.

A direct comparison with the ineffectiveness of Shahbaz Nadeem last week would be harsh, given the difference in nature of the tracks on offer. But while this Chepauk pitch, no doubt, aided Patel, his guile and wile made his wickets a just reward.

The 27-year-old used his height and round-arm action to extract the best purchase from the surface. As of the tea interval on the second day, Patel had induced 25 false shots in 16 overs — his 26 percent rate of drawing a false response was the best for any bowler in the match.

That automatically made Patel an additional weapon to be wary of for England, as opposed to a potential release. In turn, the debutant seized control over the English batting, delivering 92 dot balls out of 120, and going at just two per over.

And when the guy who was bowling from the other end as Patel gets a controlling slow left-armer to partner him, it usually only means one thing.

On-fire Ashwin keeps the wood on Stokes

It is well-known that no bowler has had the wood over Ben Stokes like Ravichandran Ashwin.

Sunday’s castling of the English all-rounder’s stumps was the ninth time Ashwin accounted for Stokes in ten Tests. The next-most successful bowler against Stokes in the format is Nathan Lyon, with six dismissals, and only two others have managed to claim Stokes on five occasions (Kemar Roach and Dilruwan Perera).

But the dominance goes beyond just the number of dismissals. Lyon’s six dismissals of Stokes have come from 593 deliveries, for the cost of 314 runs — the Australian off-spinner averages 52 against Stokes in Tests, and takes his wicket once every 99 balls.

Against all off-spinners excluding Ashwin, Stokes averages 37.04, goes at a strike rate of 56.54, and loses his wicket every 65 balls. When facing Ashwin, the average falls to 19.56, the strike rate comes down to 39.11, and Stokes gets out, on average, once every 50 balls.

This is a gun bowler, at the peak of his powers, bringing his best to the table against one of the most destructive batsmen in the game. This is a craftsman, at his masterful best.

Oh, and he’s now got 29 Test five-fors. In 141 innings.

Wings reinstalled, Pant 2.0 is flying now

The batting, even for the sternest detractors, couldn’t have been in doubt after the twin final-day heroics at Sydney and Brisbane, but he’s kept it going, nonetheless.

With half-centuries in four out of his last six innings, and four out of five innings at home in total, Rishabh Pant the batsman is soaring towards the heights many have reasonably imagined for him — eight 50+ scores in 30 Test innings, 10.9 balls per boundary, 5.1 balls per boundary against left-arm spin.

But for the moment, the greatest source of joy — to him, his teammates, and anyone stakeholder in Indian cricket — will be those twin diving takes for the dismissals of Ollie Pope and Jack Leach on the second afternoon.

The wicketkeeping debate in the Indian Test setup had been coming down to a divergent coin-flip: Pant when you want the better batsman, Wriddhiman Saha when you want the better ’keeper.

One good day in the park, of course, can’t turn the script around — especially not when the competitor just happens to be one of the finest glovesmen Test cricket has seen over the past decade.

However, as he leaped to his left both those times, successful on both occasions, you felt that intangible of confidence from one suit transferring to form in another.

Pant is flying — and if the buoyancy of the batting couples with the wiles of wicketkeeping, India will be in an enviable position.

Don’t review silly, India

One aspect of the game where India haven’t been looked upon with great envy, of course, is DRS. It hasn’t quite been an area that India have been able to conquer, in the years since their belated, begrudging acceptance of the system, and Sunday saw the worst of that facet.

Ironically, their first review of the day was actually successful — when the in-field had correctly spotted the faint tickle of the ball onto Dom Sibley’s bat after hitting his pad — but from there on, it was an exercise in lack-of-restraint.

Ashwin’s razor-sharp memory, which produced an instant recall of his trapping of Stokes at Mohali in similar circumstances in 2016, was delightful to view. But his reading of Sunday’s exact scenario, not so much. Convinced, perhaps by memory more than the moment itself, he goaded Kohli into what would be India’s first lost review; the ball, unlike Mohali 2016, hit Stokes too high on the pad, and was going comfortably over the off-stump.

Less than an hour later, Patel managed to coax his skipper into another review — but this slider, to Ben Foakes, was not only going over, but also missing leg.

And then, in a combination of the first two mistaken calls of the day, India lost their final review. Ashwin, as with the Stokes review earlier, excitedly lured Kohli in; just as with Patel’s review, this delivery to Foakes, too, was both spinning down the leg stump and going over the stumps too.

In the last two of these three instances, Kohli himself had looked reluctant to review the decisions, before caving in to a combination of his bowler’s plea and the ticking timer.

It was unnecessary, and on other, less fortunate days, it’s just the sort of thing that can decide passages of play — if not matches altogether. Just ask Stokes.

Updated Date: February 15, 2021 08:33:56 IST

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