England are up against it already in the third Test as India took four wickets on the first morning to leave them 81 for four.
Having won the toss and elected to bat at Ahmedabad, ducks for Dom Sibley and Jonny Bairstow, and just 17 for Joe Root, immediately had England on the back foot. And when their primary run-scorer Zak Crawley, with 53, his fifth score of 50 or more in the format, was dismissed five minutes before the first interval, hopes of taking the initiative with the series 1-1 immediately turned to short-term consolidation.
With the new conditions of day-night cricket and a pink ball, England made wholesale changes to accompany the one enforced with the resting of Moeen Ali. Out with him went struggling batsmen Rory Burns and Dan Lawrence and quick Olly Stone, replaced by Crawley, Jonny Bairstow, Jofra Archer and James Anderson as tourists plumped for just the one spinner.
By contrast, India’s alterations gave them three in their XI: off-spinning allrounder Washington Sundar accompanying Axar Patel and Ravichandran Ashwin who took 15 wickets between them in the second Test. Jasprit Bumrah, fit again, came in for Mohammed Siraj.
It was a bold call from England not least because you have to go back to 1977 for the last time they triumphed in India with just the one twirler. But the pace-heavy attack looked to be about right when the first delivery of the match shot up off a length and stung the palms of India wicketkeeper Rishahb Pant.
It was delivered by Ishant Sharma, opening up on his 100th Test, in tandem with Jasprit Bumrah, and both were in the game immediately with some lavish movement and bounce on offer. Ishant marked the milestone with the wicket of Sibley with his 10th ball – number 304 – which held its line after a series of in-duckers, catching the right-hander’s edge to Rohit Sharma at second slip.
England had to wait until the start of the fourth over for their first runs off the bat – extras had got them off the mark via two no balls and a leg bye – as Crawley’s perfect defensive shot raced down the ground for four. That timing was evident throughout the 23-year-old’s morning work, striking well straight, through cover and midwicket as the quicks strayed a touch too full as they searched for more of that early movement through the air. His innings featured 10 boundaries, including an open-faced drive through cover-point that took him to 51 from 68 deliveries.
The issues came at the other end. Patel’s first delivery, from around the wicket, trapped Bairstow in front at the start of the seventh over. The misjudgement of the line only trumped by the ill-advised review that showed a projected path straight into middle and leg stump. A partnership of 47 from 94 deliveries steadied the ship, taking the score to 74 for two.
However, a smart bowling Ashwin took out Root to leave England up against it. The off-spinner, coming around the wicket. Drew the captain into playing straight on off, as per where the delivery pitched, but was left hanging when turn brought it back into his pads. The umpire’s finger went up, followed by Root’s arms to signal for a review. Hawk-Eye’s impact on the stumps kept the decision as it was, having saved Crawley earlier off the same bowler when he was struck in front on 52.
There was no such fortune or even a review when, on 53, Patel’s slid one of his left-arm darts into Crawley’s pad. A discussion with non-striker Ben Stokes had one too many shrugs to call for England’s fourth review of the morning.
Ollie Pope (1 not out) joined Stokes (6*) to see things through to the first interval. They will need to pull more than their weight for a competitive first-innings total. Ben Foakes is in next and after him lies an elongated tail of Jack Leach, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer and James Anderson.
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