CHENNAI: India's gameplan around the bowling combination in Tests is largely built on the horses for courses policy. Stocked with variety when it comes to both pace and spin, the combination and personnel change depending on the opposition, venue and conditions on offer – the nature of the pitch and overhead conditions. It is almost drilled into every bowler’s mind and selection is done accordingly.
At Trent Bridge, India, who went to bed on Tuesday night with 12 names in mind, woke up and took another look at the pitch as well as the forecast before taking a final call. The pitch was dry and if they played two spinners, eyebrows wouldn't have been raised. Instead, they dropped Ravichandran Ashwin. The off-spinner not only happened to be their best bowler in the World Test Championship final, but had also warmed up for the Test series by playing a County fixture for Surrey and picking up seven wickets when the rest of his teammates were enjoying a well-deserved break.
But here India's need, chasing a good start to the five-match Test series, was different. While they showed that they continue to trust even the newcomers in the bowling department by including Shardul Thakur and Mohammed Siraj in the XI, Ashwin's omission was also triggered by India's lack of faith in their batting unit. And understandably so. In two tours to England, the current batting group has struggled to get good totals on the board.
Add the forecast of rain, there was only place for one spinner, and by virtue of his ascending batting skills, Ravindra Jadeja got the nod ahead of Ashwin who has 5 centuries and 11 fifties in Tests. Whether it is a good decision or not, time will tell, but just like 2018, the bowlers continued to give the team the upper hand.
Asked to bowl first, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami were on the ball from the word go, with the former removing Rory Burns off the fifth ball of the first over. They hardly gave any easy runs in the first session and maintained sustained pressure. Shami, in particular, was unlucky to not get a wicket in the morning session, as he repeatedly missed the outside edge of Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley, who fell at the stroke of lunch to Siraj.
Just like the morning session, England lost another wicket early after lunch, as Sibley fell to the leg-trap that Indian seamers are using more and more frequently since the Australia tour. With no close-in fielder around, it may not look a threatening line for batsmen, but it is hard to resist the temptation of fetching a few easy runs on the leg-side. It is a bait and even if the ball happens to travel only a short distance in the air, there is a fielder in catching position. For Sibley, KL Rahul was waiting at short-midwicket.
At 66-3, captain Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow tried to rebuild for England and take them to a total that would be just about enough for James Anderson and Stuart Broad to make use of. And throughout their 72-run stand, they looked the part, playing some delightful shots on both sides till the stroke of tea. And like it happened in the first session, India got a breakthrough in the last over of the session, again via DRS, as Bairstow was adjudged LBW to Shami.
Four balls after tea, it was a similar story as Shami had Dan Lawrence caught down the leg to leave England at 138-5. It looked dark for England. And with Trent Bridge under cloud cover, Kohli went for the kill, keeping Bumrah at one end and bringing Thakur — a natural swing bowler – from the other as Jos Buttler and Root departed in space of four overs. England folded for 183, at least 50-60 runs short of a par first-innings total.
In reply, India openers Rohti Sharma and KL Rahul safely negotiated the 13 overs to end Day 1 at 21/0.