India vs England: Rajkot Test meandering towards a draw, but an English collapse can't be ruled out
A brilliant bowling effort from the three Indian spinners on a pitch that is now turning slightly more than on day one could still see England fired out for not many.
England batted and bowled well against India on day four of the first Test in Rajkot. They were patient, disciplined and hard-working. They had decent plans that they executed well. India's run rate rarely touched three an over as the England fielders supported their bowlers whilst being on the field for 162 overs in this innings. When they batted, an unbeaten century stand by their openers gave them a lead of 163. Despite all this, the best they can hope for is a draw.
England have outperformed with both the bat and ball, racking up 537 runs in their first innings and then keeping the Indian top order under control when they bowled. However, once India reached near parity in their first innings, it meant England couldn't win, but they could stumble to a defeat. And as we enter the final day of this match, a draw is the most likely result, but an England victory is the least probable.
A brilliant bowling effort from the three Indian spinners on a pitch that is now turning slightly more - but not much more - than on day one could still see England fired out for not many, to set up an unlikely chase.
As soon as England started batting in their second innings there was more happening for the Indian bowlers. But that was expected going into this series. India are better at bowling in India than England. The threat of India performing to their potential is what would have worried the England supporters. At times watching England batting on wearing pitches in Asia has been like seeing your childhood teddy bear being destroyed with a flamethrower. Those experiences make you wary.
The biggest bonus for England during an attritional innings was Adil Rashid who had another excellent day with the ball. He bowled far fewer bad balls than he had in any of his previous five Tests, as he claimed four for 114. He regularly beat the edge of the bat and never let the Indian batsmen dominate him. The fact that Alastair Cook did not bring Moeen Ali into the attack in the last few minutes before the lunch break showed that the England captain, who has a history of not trusting spinners, had faith in Rashid doing a good job.
One of the Rashid wickets came under somewhat bizarre circumstances, off a rare poor ball. He dropped one short and Kohli rocked back and played a pull shot. He set off for a single and when he was halfway down the pitch there was an excited appeal from Jonny Bairstow. The England wicketkeeper had noticed that Kohli had trod on his stumps and he was out hit wicket. Kohli sheepishly hung around for a replay, but it was pretty obvious from his facial expression that he knew he was in trouble.
By the time Rashid claimed the wicket of Ravindra Jadeja, with a ball that bounced and turned before taking the shoulder of the bat, he looked more confident that he ever has with a red ball in hand while wearing an England shirt. It has been hard work, but England's most exciting spin bowler finally looked like he belonged.
Of course, cricketers never deserve more runs and wickets than they end up with, despite the insistence of many of those watching. But as inconsequential as the artificial landmarks that we have created for this sport are, it would have been great for England had Rashid managed to claim a fifth wicket. He is someone who thrives on confidence.
The one disappointment for England in the field came when the last pair were at the crease. Rashid had just claimed his fourth wicket to dismiss Umesh Yadav when India's number 10 played an ambitious slog sweep that he top edged.
That brought Mohammad Shami to the crease and Stuart Broad should have dismissed him with the second ball he faced. An outside edge went at catchable height to Cook in the slips and he put down a catch that was simpler than a multiple choice question in a quiz in which you have to call a premium rate phone number to enter. The score was 460 for nine at the time. India were eventually dismissed 28 runs later for 488, and chances are, that won't be all that costly, but Cook would be very disappointed with the effort after such solid fielding by his team earlier.
A collapse by England that many had feared did not materialise. Cook and Haseeb Hameed dealt with the movement that the Indian spinners created, sharing an opening stand worth 114, with both men not out at the close of play.
Rashid is the highlight for England in this Test but Hameed's debut is also very exciting. The 19-year-old Lancashire opener looked completely comfortable in Test cricket in the second innings, just as he had in the first, as he became the first teenager to score a Test half century for England in 79 years. He was squared up a few times, and there was the odd false shot, but he has as good a chance as any to become the opening batsman that England have missed for so long. It is very early days of course, but for someone so young to appear so assured on debut is enough to generate giddy excitement.
Hameed has been characterised as a blocker, but those who have watched him the most in county cricket say there is more to his game than that. He is compact and wary, but certainly not a shotless plodder. When he smashed Jadeja back down the ground for a six he may have challenged some preconceived ideas about him.
This match has been heading towards a draw since about lunch time on day one, and when the teams come back on Sunday, it will take something remarkable from India to push for the win. While England could collapse yet, it is unlikely, and it looks as if this flat Rajkot pitch will end up being the winner. But if you are considering which team will head to Visakhapatnam for the second Test with the best memories of this match, right now, that will be England.
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