I remember the Test series of 1993 very well. The Indian unit had just completed a horrible series in South Africa and the upcoming home series against England was a litmus test for the skipper Mohammad Azharuddin. In the meantime, the English were in very good shape and brought a highly experienced team in India to repeat the feat of the 1984-85 season.

Graham Gooch shaped the English team and made them world-beaters since taking over the captaincy in 1990 and against that morally depleted Indian team; they expected to shine ahead of the much-awaited Ashes clash back home. Sadly, the outcome was disastrous – England were thrashed at Kolkata, Chennai, and Mumbai with Azharuddin leading the way – it not only saved his job but brought back the faith of the Indians in their team.

After that bashing at Kolkata at the hands of Azhar and Indian spinners, England never really stared well in the first Test of a series against India – even during that historic series win in 2012, their start was shaky. And in 2016, it was the repeat of 1993 – thus, expectations remained not high before the commencement of the first Test in Chennai this year.

England scored 477 on this very ground the last time and still went on to lose by an innings!

 A Root masterclass

Joe Root won a very important toss and elected to bat on a deck, which would naturally get slower and slower with the progress of each day and the bounce would vary.

Root came out to bat at the background of an outstanding series in Sri Lanka.

England were in a steady position towards the end of the first session on Day 1, 63-0 and moving along pleasantly, before two quick wickets reduced them to 63 for 2.

Root put caution over fluency because it was very important to build a partnership and arrest the collapse. Most importantly, being the captain of the side, he needs to lead from the front.

India’s attack comprised of three spinners – Ravichandran Ashwin, Shabaz Nadeem, and Washington Sundar and two pacers – Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma.

Root had his bitter experience against Sharma three years ago and first of all, he had to be good enough against his nemesis. Sharma – back from an injury – was looking sharper and consistently asked questions – there were nervy moments, but Root was prepared than ever – patience, pivoting more on the back foot, had his eyes wide opened and astute feet movement allowed him to adapt.

After 50 balls he had scored only 11 runs, the fewest runs he ever made at that stage of an innings in Asia – zero boundaries, and only two attacking strokes – occupying the crease motivated him more.

Kohli set the spinners free against Root.

Over the years, Root has elevated his batting against the spinners. What makes him such a brilliant customer against the spinners is his ability to avoid the interception distance between 2-3 meters – the danger zone. No other batsmen in the world do this well than Root.

Meanwhile, his sweep-shot and reverse-sweep have become a treat.

At the start, against Ashwin and Nadeem, he did not execute the sweep at all and when Sundar came into bowl – Root started sweeping, doing so to four of the first 15 balls the Indian bowled. Gradually, the sweep-shot started to dominate his innings and reminded me of Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting batting against Ravi Shastri and Maninder Singh at Mumbai in the World Cup semifinal, 1987.

Traditional sweep, hard sweep, slog sweep, and reverse sweep – they were just executed consistently and England cemented their authority.

The seep shot of Root is more about playing along the line rather than length.

Then he started driving the pacers and it took 121 balls to execute such.

According to Cricviz, “A full-blooded yet elegant cover drive off Jasprit Bumrah was a flavour of Root-in-England, a gentle contrast to the cross-batted work which had defined the knock. From his 174th, he unleashed it again, this time off Ishant, that post-lunch lateral movement having vanished. These strokes are usually the backbone of a Root innings, particularly at home, and yet today in Chennai they were a rarity; not a single run was scored in the V off Root’s bat. This wasn’t a case of the drive being too dangerous to play, but rather because the associated risk just wasn’t needed. If Root didn’t give them that, India had nothing.”

“His acceleration was immaculate. Just 17 runs from the first 60 balls Root faced was then turned into 111 from the next 137, flying along having got up to speed. His innings had begun with the conservative refusal to sweep Indian’s premier spinner, but it ended with Root, 192 balls into his knock and as secure as he’d ever been, slog-sweeping Ashwin into the empty stands for six. In the Evening Session, he was attacking 34% of his deliveries, well above the Test average of 25%, and yet matching it with just 12% false shots. Attacking with control, the privilege earned by a well-set, elite batsman.”

Root is going back and across rather than simply back and has improved balance – but it seems the biggest change may be in temperament – he has started to belie in himself and the hunger for runs would surely make him the number 1 batsman in the world cricket very soon.

On the second day, he made his hundred on Day 1 count – converted it into a doubleton. It was his fifth double hundred in white clothes and just two shies of the great Wally Hammond.

Hammond and Gooch are the only England players other than Root, who has scored 644 runs from three-and-a-half Tests – five innings – this year – to have scored more than 600 runs in three successive Tests. Kumar Sangakkara is the only other man in Test history to score 180 (or more) in three successive Tests.

Again, was the first double-century by a visiting batsman in India since 2010 – when Brendon McCullum made 225 in Hyderabad – and the first by an England batsman since Graeme Fowler and Mike Gatting both did so in Chennai in 1985. It was also the first double-century anywhere against India since McCullum made 302 against them in Wellington in 2014.

One might claim that Root exploited the conditions better because it was a flat deck, but if one observed the nature of the deck after the first session and so on – it was not at all an easy one to bat on.

“There’s been spin, bounce, and reverse. A lot of balls have spat out of the rough. We’ve just played really well. You’ve got to give us credit there,” Ben Stokes said after the end of Day 2.

“Joe makes us all feel pretty rubbish with how easy he makes batting look. He’s in phenomenal form and making things look very, very easy. The way he plays spin – dominates spin – is incredible to watch. I don’t think we’ve had an England batsman ever play spin the way he does. He’s got an answer and an option for everything.”

That double ton laid the foundation for a mammoth total and England never let the opportunity slip.

India fall behind

The new-ball burst by Jofra Archer was too hot to handle on Day 3. It was a breathtaking one on such a deck. He removed both the Indian openers in a skillful new-ball burst before Dom Bess struck to dismiss Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane to leave India 73 for 4 before drinks on the third afternoon.

Rishabh Pant launched a breathless counter-attack, hitting nine fours and five sixes as he dominated Jack Leach on either side of tea, while Cheteshwar Pujara worked the ball around steadily. But both men fell to Bess in the evening session, leaving India 321 runs behind at the close and depended on the tail to wag. Sundar and Ashwin batted to swell the total but still were short of 241 runs.

In terms of discipline, Bess was impressive with the ball. It is never easy to keep the Indian batters on the back foot by operating with spinners, still, Bess, along with Leach was able to tame them.

Ashwin creates havoc

The fourth day was one of the most fascinating days of Test cricket. Root did not decide to enforce the follow-on, rather decided to give India a target to chase despite the miracles of Brisbane and Chattogram.

Ashwin unleashed his menacing best and the track aided him.

Ashwin ended the day with his 28th five-wicket haul in Tests, with figures of 6 for 61, and a total of nine wickets in a Test where he has had to bowl 72.4 overs and bat 91 balls.

England were bundled out for 178 and India needed 420 runs to win.

Red hot James Andreson

Even though the track was well-suited for Bess and Leach to strike gold, but the final day belonged to the one and only James Anderson.

7 overs. 4 maidens. 8 runs. 3 wickets.

On a dust-bowl, James Anderson set jitters in the Indian batting line up.

It was all about skill.

The ball to Shubman Gill moved late, reversed, hit the dust, and sent the offstump cart-wheeling. Change in length. A lot fuller.

Ajinkya Rahane received one which seemed to be moving away – changed its trajectory in the very last second, jagged back in, and disturbed the furniture. Rahane’s head fell outside the line and the front foot was not in line too – credit to the last-second change in direction of the ball.

Pant was deceived. England Anderson had a catching man placed in the short cover region. Anderson delivered an off-cutter and tempted Pant to drive. He drove with hard hands and the loose shot flew to the man placed at that catching position.

And that spell in the morning was enough to seal the fate of the match.

The English Lions roared in Chennai and I have seen a bunch of tough lads shrug-off the opening Test match Blues in India.

Facebook Comments