CHENNAI: Eight wickets to spin and England all out for 205. Many times, a scorecard does not reflect the true story of the day.
That was the case on the first day of the fourth Test in Ahmedabad. Despite all the noise surrounding the pitch and it possibly being a rank turner, it didn't behave as one expected it to. Drafting in a second spinner in Dom Bess and an extra batsman in Dan Lawrence, Joe Root & Co. thought they had read the pitch correctly.
However, twice in two games the visiting team did not make use of winning the toss and batting first. It was once again a lack of application that has put England in trouble. With India trailing by just 181 runs at the end of the day's play with nine wickets in hand, defending a below-par total with just three specialist bowlers might not work in the visitors' favour.
Unlike the last two Tests, the pitch had something in it for the pacers. It moved both ways, had good carry apart from offering some turn. The way England's openers Zak Crawley (9) and Dom Sibley (2) said a thing or two about how the batsmen were spooked by fear of the turning ball. It was similar to their dismissals in the pink-ball Test.
What the pitch did was favour the batsmen who were willing to bide their time in the middle. But England, who do not have a single batsman who averages more than 40 apart from their skipper, fluffed their lines. It was a missed opportunity.
"It was a batting wicket. It was coming onto the bat nicely, so we planned to bowl patiently and keep bowling at the same spot. Virat Bhai told me that we have only two fast bowlers so we will keep rotating, and we will be well-rested," said Mohammed Siraj, who ended the day with two for 45.
Apart from the self-inflicted damage, it was Siraj — he replaced Jasprit Bumarh — who did his part in England's below-par total by setting up the dismissals of Root and Jonny Bairstow accurately. Using both inswingers and outswingers by varying the pace and length, he trapped the England skipper for five to leave them reeling at 30 for three in the 13th over. For the first time since the first Test, England crossed 200 thanks to the rescuing act by Ben Stokes and Lawrence.
Coming down the track against spinners and hitting a couple of sixes did yield runs for the all-rounder who made 55 off 121 balls. He also stitched a 43-run partnership with Ollie Pope. However, there was something lacking in their plans. Just when Stokes looked solid, off-spinner Washington Sundar dismissed him leg before with a ball that went straight through.
On the other hand, Lawrence — who replaced Stuart Broad in the XI — counter-attacked the Indian bowlers for a brisk 46. However, he also undid fine innings with a moment of madness, stepping out to a turning ball off Axar Patel only to be stumped by Rishabh Pant.
"Since the time of Ranji Trophy, we learnt one thing that we have to bowl good areas. It's all about being patient. Virat Bhai just told me to bowl one area and try build the pressure. Ishant Bhai also said that don't try too many things because when you build pressure, then automatically you get wickets," added Siraj.
India got off to a sedate start with opener Shubman Gill's defence being shattered by James Anderson in the third ball of the innings. However, Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara held fort to remain unbeaten on 8 and 15 respectively. On Friday, Kohli & Co need to bat well to not fritter away the advantage with pitch starting to show signs of turn.