India vs England, 4th Test, Day 1: Ravichandran Ashwin's late wickets poise match on even keel

Batting last in a Test on Indian pitches is like a lottery for visiting teams. Except that the delivery that has their number would spell disaster.

This is one reason why the toss assumes an all-important dimension here — the winner almost always chooses to bat first as that’s when the pitch would behave at its best. It wouldn’t always guarantee a win for the visitors, but at least it would give them a better chance of making a fight out of the Test.

 India vs England, 4th Test, Day 1: Ravichandran Ashwins late wickets poise match on even keel

India's Ravichandran Ashwin bowls against England. AP

Of course England were lucky with the toss twice before — at Rajkot and Mohali. While their batsmen came really good in the first innings at Rajkot, the Mohali Test was another matter altogether. A total of 283 wasn't enough to put pressure on India. On the other hand the home team rallied splendidly to put the squeeze on England with a huge first innings lead that ultimately helped them coast to an easy win.

In Mumbai, England seemed to have learned their lessons from that defeat. This was evident in the manner in which their top order went about appreciating the opportunity of making first use of the batting crease.

Debutant Keaton Jennings, son of former South African cricketer and ex-Royal Challengers Bangalore coach Ray Jennings, who was sent as replacement for the injured opener Haseeb Hameed, was outstanding in his approach and shot selection. Perhaps the Indians did not have enough data about him and thus did not know his strengths and weaknesses.

This was particularly obvious when then they tried all sorts of ways to bag the left-hander's wicket in the opening session of the match. From short-pitched deliveries to giving him runs on both sides of the pitch, the strategy looked particularly ill-conceived.

Paceman Umesh Yadav might have been unlucky not to dismiss him very early in the innings but there was no denying that Jennings’ relaxed style of batting boosted the visitors’ confidence and carried the day for them.

The left-handed opener cut and pulled very well but it was his fearless reverse sweeps against the spinners that showcased his temperament and his ability to bat without a care in the world. This encouraged the other top-order batsmen to bat far more reassuringly than they did at Mohali and Vishakapatnam and the runs flowed early on.

Openers Jennings and skipper Alastair Cook were going at four runs an over, a refreshing scoring rate for Test cricket. The first session, when the pitch and new ball were expected to favour the seamers was almost a washout for India.

The home team packed its bowling attack with two off spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin and Jayant Yadav. This should have come in handy against the plethora of left-hand batsmen in the England line-up. But it did not seem so for a long period when Jennings and Cook, both left-handers, pieced together an excellent 99-run opening stand.

Cook fell to another southpaw — Ravinder Jadeja — but there were others of his ilk, especially Moeen Ali, to carry the fight to the Indian camp. England’s tea break score of 196 for two was outstanding to say the least. They had not lost too many wickets and the scoring rate was exceptional for the opening two sessions of a Test. Additionally the debutante was still around with a very impressive century.

It was the final session which proved that the onus was on the settled batsmen to make it count on Indian pitches. A track that showed it had good bounce and carry in it, offering plenty of encouragement to the spinners. But both Jennings and Moeen Ali stoically weathered some excellent spin bowling from Ashwin and Yadav, both of whom were getting the ball to grip the surface and spin across the face of the bat.

Their hard work came undone when Moeen Ali threw away his wicket with a very poor and ungainly shot. That was just the impetus that the Indian spinners needed. From 230 for two England slumped to 249 for five before Ben Stokes, another left hander, and Jos Butler saw through the day.

Ashwin has already scalped four batsmen and along with the other spinners has given ample proof that England would be hard-pressed batting on a wearing pitch in their second innings.

At the end of the first day’s play there is little doubt that the match is keenly poised. Should England add another 125 to 150 runs to their Day 1 score of 288 for five, India would be very hard-pressed to save this Test. On the other hand if the hosts grab the remaining wickets very cheaply on the morrow, England would have yet again squandered the advantage of having won the toss and avoided batting last on a spiteful pitch.

Updated Date: Dec 08, 2016 20:22:45 IST