India were left ruing of what might have been after sloppy work in the field almost ruined the benefit of grabbing two early wickets in the opening session of the Chennai Test on Friday.
The impressive opening burst by the home team’s bowlers had yielded two wickets, of last Test’s centurion Keaton Jennings and skipper Alastair Cook. But two chances that went a-begging worked to England’s advantage and helped them finish the day on an encouraging note.
KL Rahul, usually a very alert and safe catcher, was caught napping when the left-handed Moeen Ali mistimed a flick that literally went through the short mid-wicket fielder’s outstretched hands. Rahul had timed his jump a bit late and was thus not quite there when the uppish stroke went tantalasingly over his head and through his hands.
Ravindra Jadeja (3 for 73 from 28 overs), India’s most successful bowler on the day was the one to suffer that momentary fielding lapse. Moeen had yet to open his account and was extremely scratchy at the start.
At the other end, Joe Root enjoyed an enormous slice of luck when skipper Virat Kohli inexplicably left the second slip unguarded. Root edged paceman Umesh Yadav at a catchable height into that vacant gap and although Kohli soon plugged that gap, the horse had bolted.
The 146-run third wicket partnership came as a whiff of fresh air for a team that seemed particularly disheartened when they were two down for a mere 21 runs at the start.
England, who opted to bat first, were probably confident of handling the vagaries of a damp pitch better than one that would aid spinners later on. But that confidence was belied when Umesh accounted for Jennings while Cook succumbed to Jadeja.
Root and Moeen rode their luck as the spinners, despite getting the ball to turn, could not make it whip off the pitch.
This morning the Indian team suffered yet another injury when Jayant Yadav pulled out of the playing eleven with a thigh strain. This allowed leg-spinner Amit Mishra to get into the playing eleven. But with his deliveries not taking off after pitching, he simply did not get the nip that he was looking out for.
Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, the star of the Indian bowling thus far in the series, also suffered likewise. He had the batsmen in a bit of bother but was not as impressive as he was in the other Tests. This was a let-down for his home town supporters, who expected their local hero to call the tune.
Perhaps as the match progresses, and the pitch dries out totally after the damage left behind by the horrendous cyclone that ravaged the city a few days, Ashwin will once again be the tormentor of the English batting.
But on the day, Root (88; 144b, 10x4), Moeen Ali (120 batting; 222b 12x4) and Bairstow (49; 90b, 3x6) mixed caution with aggression to push back Ashwin and the other Indian bowlers.
Had India taken the early chances it's possible that England, already 3-0 down in the series, would have got a real kick in the pants on the opening day of the fifth and final Test. It would have softened them considerably for the rest of the Test.
But a score of 284 for four from 90 overs at the close of play on the first day gives them hope to finish the series on a high.
Hopefully, India, just like they did in the previous Tests, will be ready to give them a fitting reply and leave them to lick their wounds back home through the Christmas holidays.
For that to happen, however, India have to come up with a stand-out performance on Saturday and beyond.
Updated Date: Dec 16, 2016 19:49:50 IST