With the duelling banjos of The Hundred and the Olympics currently occupying most of the country’s sporting attention, you could have been forgiven for not noticing the centrepiece of England’s Test match summer sneaking up in an outside lane.
Yet, on a mild summer’s day in Nottingham, here it was – the start of a five Test series with India, recently pipped to the World Test Championship crown and eager to add England to their burgeoning recent collection of impressive overseas series wins.
Fortunately for those who felt a little caught off guard by the arrival of this series, this was a day to underline the reassuring constancy of Test cricket – indeed with a full house back at Trent Bridge, it was almost as if nothing had changed at all.
Unfortunately for England’s batsmen, that was not exactly a good thing as once again the only constant in their ever-changing, always underperforming, batting line-up proved to be the collapse.
In the match programme England head coach Chris Silverwood had laid out his side’s ground-breaking plan for success in the series: “We need big first innings runs.” Sadly however it appears this team are no closer to discovering how to actually execute this strategy.
After winning the toss and electing to bat, England looked to have snaffled what were probably the best batting conditions of the match, an advantage however that they seemed in no mood to press home.
For those craving familiarity after months of uncertainty and turmoil, here came England’s batsmen, unbent by the world around them and with almost Pavlovian efficiency, managing to lose a wicket inside the first over of the day.
Rory Burns was the man to go, the first of four English ducks on the day, taking their total in 2021 to an extraordinary 31 from just nine matches.
It is perhaps hard to single out just one member of England’s top order who was most in need of discovering some form in this series, but Zak Crawley must have felt himself near the top of that list, averaging just 10.25 in Tests since his extraordinary 267 against Pakistan last summer.
He was tested by India’s skilful opening bowlers, Mohammed Shami in particular repeatedly beating the outside edge of his bat, although Crawley largely refused to take the bait outside his off stump, waiting for the rare over-pitched delivery before unfurling his stylish cover drive.
It was a different story against Mohammed Siraj though who troubled the Kent man with the ball darting back in off the seam, India reviewing unsuccessful appeals against him twice in the space of three balls, the first for LBW going against them but the second shown to have just clipped Crawley’s bat on the way through to the keeper.
At lunch England were 62-2, by no means a disaster given the way their innings had started, Dom Sibley’s glacial 18 not out earning him the accolade of the lowest score made by an England opener batting though a full first session of the first day of a Test, since Chris Smith’s 12* v Pakistan at Karachi in 1984.
It was however not a score Sibley would add to, not so much falling for the trap set for him by India at short midwicket as throwing himself into it, tamely chipping Shami to KL Rahul.
Enter Jonny Bairstow, carrying the weight of five ducks in his last six Tests against India out with him to the middle, and given his most recent performances perhaps a little fortunate to find himself there at all.
For a while with Joe Root and Bairstow at the crease, things were looking up for England, a 50 partnership was brought up from 112 balls, and Bairstow even appeared to break the shackles somewhat, playing the shot of the day driving straight down the ground for four off Siraj.
Soon though the only two real constants of recent English batting would come reassuringly looming into sight, first a fiftieth Test match 50 for Root – England’s only truly reliable batsman delivering again – and then an over later the customary batting collapse began.
From 138-3, England lost their next six wickets for 22 runs in the space of just 59 balls. Twice they even managed to lose two wickets in an over. Jos Buttler had been shorn of any red ball experience in the build up to this Test, and it showed in his fairly hideous 18-ball duck – a knock in which he was perhaps fortunate not to have been dismissed on three separate previous occasions.
Only Sam Curran provided a bit of wag to England’s tail, perhaps briefly bringing back unwanted memories of his Man of the Series performance against the tourists in 2018 as he clubbed a six over the rope on the leg side. However he would finish stranded on 27 not out as Jasprit Bumrah bowled James Anderson to pick up his fourth wicket of the day and condemn England to 183 all out.
If the home side had hoped for an immediate response with the ball, they were no more successful there than they had been with the bat, India seeing off everything England could throw at them in the last 13 overs of the day, finishing on 21-0 at the close.
It was then business as usual for this England side who still look no closer to finding their feet in the longest form of the game and with five Tests against this impressive and hungry Indian side only just underway, already find themselves looking at a painful month or so ahead.
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