Three-ton England weighs in with a big total

It was the first time in 55 years that three England batsmen had embellished the scorecard with a century each in the sub-continent; the previous occasion was when opener Geoff Pullar (119), Ken Barrington (172) and Ted Dexter (126 not out) put the Indian attack to the sword in the second innings in the course of saving the Kanpur Test in 1961.

Ben Stokes played a responsible knock and ran up a century.   -  K. R. Deepak

Even though Murali Vijay and Gautam Gambhir gave a bright start, raising 63 runs without being dislodged, India has its back to the wall in this opening Test against England . It has been a peculiar first two days, comprising the first five sessions totalling a little over 10 hours, when the home team looked at all sorts of options with the resources available to make an impact on the match that had been snatched away by a wonderful knock from Joe Root with splendid support from Moeen Ali.

Having sent back the three top-order England batsmen to the pavilion before lunch on Wednesday, India lost the grip and it continued for two full sessions on the second day with Ali making his fourth century and Ben Stokes extracting heavy penalty from the home team, especially after Wriddhiman Saha put down two chances while diving to his left. Stokes made his fourth Test century and his first against India as England ended its first innings at 537.

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It was the first time in 55 years that three England batsmen had embellished the scorecard with a century each in the sub-continent; the previous occasion was when opener Geoff Pullar (119), Ken Barrington (172) and Ted Dexter (126 not out) put the Indian attack to the sword in the second innings in the course of saving the Kanpur Test in 1961.

In two days here, given the best batting conditions, England, after being tormented by young Bangladesh off-spinner, Mehedi Hasan, used practice facilities at the Brabourne Stadium and here to good use and executed its plans to near perfection against an Indian attack that had not been collared thus in the last 13 home Tests starting with the four-Test series against Australia three and a half years ago.

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A great deal of introspection had gone into the England team selection with coach Trevor Bayliss suggesting immediately after the Mirpur reverse that Gary Ballance’s place was on the line and that changes would be made for the opening Test here.

What England eventually did was taking a gamble by giving a first chance to the 19-year-old opener Haseeb Hameed and reshuffling the batting order, dropping left-hander Ben Duckett to No. 4 and promoting Ali to No. 5, which paid dividends with Ali carving a chanceless 117. Then Stokes, who has been a terrific success at No. 6, showed a lot of patience for the team’s cause, the outcome of which was a century that came about after Saha dropped him twice at 61.

England had kept the scoreboard moving at a little under three and a half runs an over on the first day when off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin bore the brunt of the attack, sending down one-third of the 93 overs that India bowled. The thought that Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav would make the ball reverse had delayed the decision to bring the second new ball into play, but Virat Kohli claimed it straightaway on resumption, on the second day.

The shining new ball, though, enabled Ali to help himself to some easy boundary shots with Yadav not up to the mark with his line and length; Ali worked him off his toes, slashed and then executed a front foot shot to pick up three fours. Runs flowed with Stokes employing the pull shot against Shami. All this action happened after Ali had run a quick single to reach his century. The 62-run stand for the fifth wicket ended with Shami sending Ali’s off-stump flying; it was a pleasant sight for the home team, but England then kept India on the field well into the extra-time after tea break.

After Ali’s dismissal, Jonathan Bairstow took a heavy toll of Amit Mishra, but it was Stokes’ cautious and selective shot-making, stemming from an objective to help his team post a formidable score, that kept the Indians under a scorching sun till around tea time and waiting for the big left-hander to make a mistake. Stokes and Bairstow engaged themselves in a rollicking partnership of 99 runs.

Quite unmistakable was the England batsmen’s intention not to allow the Indian bowling to remain on top after its early dominance and even tail-ender Zafar Ansari held out for nearly two and a half hours before falling a leg before victim to Mishra, a decision that was confirmed by the DRS.

The second day belonged to Stokes, who restrained himself from throwing his bat at everything. He hung in for six minutes short of five hours, faced 235 balls and struck 13 fours and two sixes. Most significantly, he was involved in partnerships with Ali, Bairstow and Ansari that took England past the 500-run mark.

India would rue the chances it did not take in the first session on Wednesday and also on Thursday. And the mistakes it made kept the team on the field for two minutes short of ten and a half hours.And Ashwin’s 2 for 167 was a dismal number for an in-form bowler.