Another fascinating day of Test cricket on Friday has left the fourth Test beautifully poised, with India batting well but still 256 runs behind England. A positive result looks almost certain, and although they still trail in the first innings, India will sleep better tonight.
England reached 400 against India on Day 2 at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, and they did so thanks to a man playing on his home ground. Well, sort of. Jos Buttler was a Mumbai Indians player in this year’s Indian Premier League, and he has played as many games at the Wankhede in 2016 as he has at Lancashire’s home ground in Manchester.
He certainly appeared well-settled once he had got himself set, and his 76 runs were what allowed England to first pass 300, something they have not managed in their last four innings, and then for them to go on to 400. Buttler’s method was one of his own, using his feet to come down the pitch to the spinner more than any other batsman in this match. Cricket data company CricViz tweeted that Buttler had come out of his crease to play the ball 25 times in his innings, the rest of the England batsmen combined did so only 19 times in total.
It worked, with Buttler not always attacking the ball once he left his crease — at times he defended, at times he worked the ball away for singles, but he was always proactive and he rarely looked troubled in his 137-ball stay. It wasn’t the crash and bash kind of innings that we have seen Buttler play in white ball cricket — he hit only six fours and one six — but it was mightily effective. What this kind of knock shows is that Buttler is not just a white ball cricketer, he can be an all format superstar for England. They just need to find a way to get him into the side.
There were many shrewd judges that felt Buttler should have been the man to replace James Taylor in England’s middle order when he was forced to retire due to a heart condition. Instead, England have tried James Vince, Gary Ballance and Ben Duckett in the middle order, all of them with limited success.
Buttler’s lack of First-Class cricket has been used as a reason not to select him by some, although the England management have never said that. While Buttler has played just one First-Class match since he was left out of the England Test team in October 2015, that was never going to prevent him being picked. The Lancashire player does not need to prove that he has the talent to be an international cricketer by scoring runs in the County Championship, he has already done that over and over again for England. Yes, ODIs and T20 internationals are played at a different tempo to Tests, but the basic skills are the same. The very best players adapt, and Buttler is one of the very best.
He lost his wicket when he was batting with last man, James Anderson, and he was looking to score as many runs as possible before he ran out of partners. He left his crease again, but this time it was not so measured. He attempted to thrash Ravindra Jadeja over long on for six and he was done in the flight. The ball crashed into his stumps and he was gone for his second highest Test score, and his first Test fifty since June 2015.
Going into this series, England were unsure of who should open the batting and who should bat four in the medium to long term. If they get nothing else from this series, they now have genuine options for both. Keaton Jennings and Haseeb Hameed can open or bat three, that means that either Joe Root or Buttler can bat four.
Buttler had lost his overnight batting partner, Ben Stokes, in the third over of the day in circumstances that may not have been controversial but which were certainly interesting. Stokes propped forward to a ball from Ravichandran Ashwin that appeared to take an edge. It was given not out on the field and India referred. There was an “ultra-edge” spike, but that could well have come from the bat hitting the ground rather than the ball flicking the edge. It was enough for the third umpire to decide Stokes had edged it, the batsman himself was far from convinced.
The only support of any real significance that Buttler received came from Jake Ball. England’s number 10 lasted 60 balls, the longest innings of his first-class career to date. He can be very proud of his contribution with the bat.
With the ball, all the England bowlers struggled to make any real inroads into the India batting lineup as both Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid dropped the ball too short, too often. The evening session was another one of those where Alastair Cook seemed to waiting for something to happen rather than being proactive enough to make it. This pitch has a fair bit in it for the spinners, and it will only get more difficult to bat on. England need to be careful that they don’t let the game drift and allow the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli grind them down.
Too often in this series there has been a glimmer of hope for England and they have let it flutter away. A poor session on Saturday morning and exactly that can happen. A couple of early wickets on Day 3 and suddenly things look very different.
Updated Date: Dec 09, 2016 18:29:22 IST