“Whenever I go to a new country, I always plan in advance. Before visiting the country, I have a look at a few videos. What works over there. What the home team does over there. It is very important for long tours to enjoy the country and see the places. So that’s the basic thing that I look to follow”
Jasprit Bumrah had revealed before the start of the England tour. A tourist mindset some might say but so far, Bumrah has done everything asked of him and more. If he had been watching videos of England bowlers bowling at home, he reflected a lot of that in an opening spell that all but dismantled the notion that England’s batting catastrophe at Trent Bridge was a one-off.
The lanky seamer hit the ground running and squared up Alastair Cook first ball with one that angled across the out of touch left-hander. It was a sign of things to come as Bumrah, joined in his act by a rejuvenated Ishant Sharma, probed England’s batting to the point where Root would be slamming his head against the wall for opting to bat first.
Touted as the “best batting wicket of the series” by Mike Atherton and backed up by Virat Kohli at the toss, Southampton was anything but that. The ball swung and seamed around with extra bounce foiling batsmen’s timing and judgement. For a batting line-up already shaken up by India’s exceptional seamers, the initial jitters lasted longer than usual.
Kohli’s disappointed expression and a wry smile at the toss lamenting his luck at the toss (India have lost six of their last eight tosses in Tests) gave way to ecstasy as his trusted new ball bowlers rampaged over hapless England batsmen.
Bumrah, who had sent down a near-perfect first over, had Keaton Jennings playing all over a spectacular inswinger that moved in late and caught the opener in no man’s land. If ever there was the last nail in the coffin that stood out like a sore thumb, this was it. Jennings’ Test return this series has been worse than most of his predecessors, themselves not very impressive.
If Jennings’ dismissal and the prelude to it wasn’t enough evidence of Bumrah’s ability to land it full and move it, either way, Root’s near escape was. Landing the ball fuller, Bumrah found that bit of extra zip and movement into the batsmen courtesy his angle to catch the skipper on the move. Reviewed after the umpire turned down the decision, Root was saved by yet another misbehaviour from Bumrah’s front foot. For the second time in as many games, Bumrah was denied a wicket because he had overstepped.
Root’s joy, though, didn’t last long as Ishant Sharma found a way past his defences with another one seaming into the no.3. CricViz has an interesting data on Root’s weakness against balls on the stumps – he used to average 102 against seam deliveries on the stumps till 2016 but that has dropped to an alarmingly low 17.18 since then. But it would be criminal to not point out that the Indians had exposed his trigger movement by targeting his stumps with big inswingers.
Ishant, for one, found the most swing any Indian bowler had found in recent memory with the new ball. He kept things tight, pushed in the odd variation – most notably a yorker at Cook that nearly caught the opener off-guard – and had England on the back-foot. Bumrah was everything Ishant was and more.
Aside from creating problems with his peculiar angle, Bumrah worked on straightening balls outside the off-stump to the right-handers. With the odd one swinging in big and the other holding its line outside the off-stump, England’s apparently assured batting line-up had no place to hide. Bairstow, his broken finger a target for India’s seamers according to Shami before the Test, fiddled with one that straightened outside his off-stump. Bumrah, all steam by now, had worked over the Englishman with an exceptional play of angles.
By the time, the two were done, England were 28/3 in 13 overs with the two Indian seamers rollicking their bowling averages with insane figures.
The strike rates in this series for Indian seamers (45.7) meanwhile raced into the top five in any three or more match series in England. Statistically, there hasn’t been a better bowling attack visiting England since 1912. Ishant and Bumrah in the last two Tests have been pioneers of this inconceivable metamorphosis. With their incredible opening spell, the England innings invariably lost direction.