England vs India latest report: Murali Vijay century keeps England at bay in docile Trent Bridge conditions
Alastair Cook’s invention earns scant reward as pitch promises little
Those who deride Alastair Cook’s captaincy for lacking verve and imagination were presumably persuaded to reconsider yesterday. He was constantly inventive, eager to show off his audacious credentials and constructing designer fields almost willy nilly.
Funky? There had been nothing quite like it since Rufus Thomas stormed the hit parade in 1969 with “Do The Funky Chicken”. England’s much-berated leader’s response to a wilfully unresponsive pitch for the first Test in Nottingham was to lure India into making mistakes with carefully devised placements buttressed by high-class, persevering fast bowling.
It did not turn out perfectly for Cook’s team on the opening day of the series but without his creative interventions it might have been much worse. India closed on 259 for 4, a total based around a charmingly modulated 122 not out from their opening batsman Murali Vijay, his fourth century in Tests and the first outside his own country. Of his runs, 94 came in boundaries, three of them in the match’s first over, but he played for the morrow by facing 35 consecutive dot balls before the close.
The tourists took the first and third sessions and in the evening recaptured the initiative as Vijay and his indestructible captain, MS Dhoni, shared an unbroken fifth-wicket stand of 81. Dhoni seems a place too high at No 6 in a Test batting order but he takes responsibility with apparent nonchalance and the team selection demanded his promotion. With a typically bustling approach he ensured the board ticked along and in the day’s last over he reached his 50 from 64 balls.
As the overall rate was below three an over by then this was going at a rapid lick. The pitch was slow and lifeless. It had little pace or carry. If anything it was more extreme than both Lord’s and Headingley for the Tests against Sri Lanka which were both in danger of early extinction. The flash modern drainage systems that are sucking the moisture out of traditional English pitches may also be bleeding Test cricket dry.
Crowds – and Trent Bridge was not quite full for the first Test of the season’s flagship series – will not continue to tolerate this kind of surface, which suits neither batsman nor bowlers. But if it agreed with anybody it was India. They are accustomed to versions of this kind of pitch at home. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence but on this most English of pitches grass was barely present.
Steve Birks, the highly respected Trent Bridge groundsman who prides himself on producing Test strips which yield entertaining cricket and results, was clearly disappointed. But he also insisted that he was not acting according to instructions in providing a so-called administrator’s pitch to make sure the match goes into the fifth day.
“We wanted to produce a pitch with pace, bounce and carry which hasn’t happened unfortunately,” said Birks. “There’s quite a lot of moisture underneath but it’s a hard surface on top which is why it’s lacking pace. The moisture readings taken earlier in the week were quite high and we haven’t seen enough of the sun to really bake it out.
“Our only instruction is to produce a good cricket wicket and, with hindsight, we may have left a bit more grass on it but this is the first day of a five-day Test and while I don’t expect spin to come into it, we hope it might quicken up a bit.”
He is not alone in that desire. While India started with gusto in the morning and rattled along at four an over against the new ball until shortly before lunch they were stifled for much of the rest of proceedings.
Even without his present difficulties, Cook must have realised he had to try something. At one stage he dispensed with slips but still had a short leg, a leg slip, a short square leg and a silly point to ensure the batsman knew he had company.
All England’s quartet of seamers, in which Ben Stokes replaced Chris Jordan, acquitted themselves adequately. If Jimmy Anderson was not at his most controlled early on, he was immediately probing when he found some reverse swing early in the afternoon. Stuart Broad was not only parsimonious but at his most incisive this season, Liam Plunkett kept coming round the wicket and banging in the ball, desperately searching for signs of a pulse. Stokes as ever conveyed the impression that he was about to make something happen.
Anderson, who finished with two wickets to go ahead of Dennis Lillee and Chaminda Vaas on the all-time list with 357 wickets, was as diplomatic as he could be given that there are four days to go. But he could not quite disguise the feeling that bowling has been a thankless task throughout this summer so far.
“I thought we did brilliantly and that our attitude was fantastic,” he said. “We could have moaned about the pitch and quite easily sulked about it. We’re as frustrated as anybody, we expect flat pitches as bowlers but we just want our nicks to carry so it’s a more even contest between bat and ball.”
Anderson took the only wicket of the morning when Shikhar Dhawan edged behind one that left him a touch with Matt Prior leaping low to his left to snaffle the catch in front of first slip. If that was some effort it almost paled against Ian Bell’s first pouch after lunch when England sprang to life, encouraged by reverse swing and Cook’s zealously determined contribution.
The well-ordered Chetesh-war Pujara flicked a ball that swung in to short mid-on and Bell sprang to his right, both feet off the ground, and took a reflex catch at full stretch.
When Broad had Virat Kohli fending outside off in the next over, England might briefly have dared to dream. But their only further success was to dismiss Ajinkya Rahane via Plunkett’s round-the-wicket attack, which saw an attempted pull confusingly go off the toe of the bat to silly point where Cook reacted calmly. England’s best efforts could induce no more lapses. The least the match needs now is a row over the non-use of the decision review system, which will surely come.
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