These past two years, England have done away with the toss in their four-day County cricket matches. Instead, the visiting team is given the option to bat or bowl first.
The reasoning for this is that it would encourage hosts to prepare better pitches. The ICC, impressed by the results, has been keen on implementing this at the international level too. But their rationale for it is to prevent host nations from doctoring pitches to suit their need.
Had the rule been in place for the Lord’s Test, it would have been England, rather than India, who would have been in the doldrums at the end of the third day’s play.
India have been plain unlucky in this Test. The weather was probably a major cause for their woes. London was in the grip of its worst summer in the run up to the Test. It had been unusually hot to the extent that the stuffy MCC did away with the regulation that members and their guests must arrive at the venue wearing suits and don them while in the pavilion.
MCC has a strict dress code for Lord’s: "Gentlemen shall wear lounge suits or tailored jacket and trousers, shirt, tie or cravat and shoes with socks” while “Women must wear: dresses; or skirts or trousers (which may be cropped below the knee) or culottes, with blouses or smart tops, and formal shoes, boots or sandals.”
However, keeping in mind the extreme heat wave that was prevailing in London in the weeks before the Test, MCC relaxed its dress rules and informed members that they and their guests could be exempted from wearing tailored jackets for the Test.
The Indian team management so taken in by these stories of heat, resultant pitch cracking, etc tinkered with the one department that had done it proud at Edgbaston. It dropped the pacy Umesh Yadav and played another Yadav in his place, the slow left-arm spinner Kuldeep.
But this call went horribly wrong after the skies opened up on the morning of the scheduled start and completely changed the equation. Additionally, India were decidedly unlucky on both days of play after the first day’s play was washed out due to rains.
When play could finally start on the second day, India suffered another blow when they lost the crucial toss. That pushed them on to the back foot straightaway. They were asked to bat first in conditions hostile to batsmen. Skipper Virat Kohli admitted that he too would have fielded first if he had won the toss. Thus if this had been a match where no toss was necessary it would have been Kohli’s prerogative to decide what he wanted to do first up.
But that was not to be. Instead, India were asked to bat first and they further paid dearly in the prevailing overcast conditions and three rain breaks.
The breaks ensured that it would be difficult to get into a groove and stick to it. It also did nothing for the batting team. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose in the short periods on play.
In short, the conditions and quality of opposition’s bowling were loaded against them.
Unfortunately, if batting against James Anderson, Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad was a nightmare in the conditions available on Friday, Saturday, when India had to bowl, presented an entirely different set of conditions. The sun was out for most of the day while the skies were blue and clear. The pitch too eased off considerable after the pre-lunch session and played out as a batting paradise for the rest of the day.
Where India erred was in not reading the signs quickly enough. They were lucky that the pre-lunch pitch had plenty of juice for the bowlers and thus helped prise out four of the top batsmen. But when the pitch flattened out, Indians were left stranded.
Had they recognised the signs and gone defensive, it might have been a happier day. Instead, they continued with their aggressive strategy for a tad too long and this suited England’s batsmen Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler very well. At one stage, they cranked up the scoring to seven runs an over.
But the partnership that really hurt India was the next one, between Bairstow and Woakes. Their 189-run stand at over four runs an over wrecked India’s chances in the Test. Somehow skipper Kohli refused to believe that in benign conditions defence could be the best form of offence.
He persisted with his field positioning even as the bowlers were getting repeatedly driven for boundaries. Woakes, a terrific replacement for Ben Stokes, carved out a very impressive unbeaten 120. He had as many as 18 boundaries, each of which was an indictment of the aggressive field positioning.
Poor Kuldeep looked innocuous and got a rude welcome to overseas Test cricket.
England, with a 250-run lead and counting, are in the driver’s seat. India will need pluck, luck and skill over the remaining two days to escape from this.