India vs England: Even in the best conditions, England's worst conditioning weaknesses come to the fore on Day 1

  • Yash Jha
  • March 4th, 2021
  • 22:06:45 IST

For the third time in four Tests, England got the spin of the coin. But for the third time in as many Tests, England haven’t got the spin of the ball.

For the second match running, the visitors find themselves miles behind the curve one day into it — as India bowled them out for 205 on the opening day of the series-decider at Ahmedabad.

The hosts, who will qualify for the World Test Championship final if they avoid a defeat here, went to stumps at 24/1, with Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara in the middle.

Here are the takeaways from Day 1 of the fourth Test between India and England, another one belonging firmly to India:

The best conditions, the worst conditioning

India's Axar Patel (right) celebrates the wicket of Dom Bess with skipper Virat Kohli (centre) on Day I of the fourth Test on Thursday. Image courtesy: Sportzpics for BCCI

India's Axar Patel (right) celebrates the wicket of Dom Bess with skipper Virat Kohli (centre) on Day I of the fourth Test on Thursday. Image courtesy: Sportzpics for BCCI

So much of the chat around this series has revolved around one central topic, you could be forgiven for assuming the teams were contesting the ‘Pitch Wars’.

Fortunately for England, for their last crack this Indian tour, they got conditions closest to what had greeted them in the first Test — you know, that lifetime ago, when England had bossed five successive days of cricket to hand India their first Test defeat at home in nearly four years. As was the case in the Chepauk opener, England also got the first use of these conditions in the Motera finale.

This time around, it wasn’t the conditions that dictated play, at all; instead, England — the vast majority of their batsmen, anyway — fell to the conditioning of their mindsets from the weight of the last fortnight they’ve endured in India.

Dom Sibley, playing for turn against Axar Patel, offered a gap between bat and pad that could fit the Rann of Kutch. Zak Crawley, almost instantly egged on by Rishabh Pant’s “someone is getting angry” sledge, attempted to whack the ball as if he wanted to deposit it in the Sabarmati. Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow were beaten for pace and movement — not spin and/or turn. Ben Stokes fell to the familiar failing of off-spin — even though it wasn’t Ravichandran Ashwin.

578/10 in 190.1 overs in their first innings of the series. 874/60 in 315.5 overs in six subsequent innings.

The conditions have played their part, but England’s conditioning has done them no favours.

Getting in, and out: England’s cardinal errors

In contradiction to most of their recent innings of this tour, England, this time around, did have batsmen who got stuck in — four of them. Only one went beyond 50, and he too didn’t last long after getting there.

Stokes, playing this game with the added load of also being England’s second seamer, had dug in appreciably in reaching his second half-century — and his first score in excess of 25 since the 82 in the first innings of the series-opener. He kept things moving when facing Mohammed Siraj (23 off 36 balls), looked more compact in 41 balls against Ashwin than he has in a long time, and was largely in control against Patel too. And then he failed to read Washington Sundar, India’s fifth bowler.

Ollie Pope, after strapping in and making a fist of it, could consider himself unfortunate for the manner of his dismissal. But the manner of his continued struggle in facing Ashwin remained unchanged (now 45/4 from 94 balls this series).

Dan Lawrence can arguably be cut some slack for his approach to Axar, given that England found themselves seven-down at the time; it was, incidentally, only the second time in 113 attempts that Lawrence fell playing an attacking shot.

Jonny Bairstow, meanwhile, never really looked ‘in’ — playing six false shots off the first 20 balls he faced, and being out of control once every four balls for the majority of his 67-ball stay.

28, 55, 29, 46. On big-turning surfaces, or in the pink-ball Test, those would have been considerable returns. On Day One of this game, after winning the toss, that wasn’t good enough.

India’s jaw-dropping spin turn

Yes, this is India, playing at home, on spinning surfaces. Of course, they’re bossing the batsmen. But the numerical heights hit by India’s spinners since the first innings of the series are dizzying.

The visitors took 418 runs from 127.1 overs of spin in that series-opening innings, losing only five wickets. In six innings thereafter, England’s scores against spin read 8/128, 7/99, 10/138, 9/64, 10/81 and 8/129.

12 runs per wicket, less than 30 balls per dismissal.

Ashwin and Axar — 47 wickets between them in the series — have been astoundingly awesome.

Don’t go purely by the narratives around the pitch; against any opposition, under any conditions, these are jaw-dropping returns.

The Siraj story: Gaining miles with every outing

Seriously, how good is Mo Siraj?

Gets a debut after India’s most crushing Test match low of all-time, and takes five in the match in a remarkable win. Becomes the leader of the pack two games later, and takes five in the second innings of the most impossible victory. Takes a wicket with the first ball he bowls on home soil, and then plays a part in a fellow bowler getting to a rare century — and celebrates more extravagantly than the centurion himself.

Yes, he’s so good to watch. He’s also so good at his trade.

CricViz data at the start of this Test pointed towards something significant: in his nascent Test career, one-third of Siraj’s deliveries had swung one way, and one-sixth the other — a variation in movement that can upstage the best-laid plans, or the best-set batsmen.

In the first over he bowled to Joe Root on Thursday morning, three deliveries moved away, two jagged back in, and one was a bouncer that was uncomfortably dealt with by the English captain.

The first ball of his next over, Siraj trapped Root with a sharp, skiddy in-swinger.

Quiet stunningly, Siraj drew 14 false shots in just his first six overs, bowled in the first 20 overs of the day.

Updated Date: March 04, 2021 22:06:45 IST

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