CHENNAI: In an era where conditions are loaded in favour of bowlers in Tests, India's recent trend has been to go for fresh legs in long series. Ever since landing in Australia, where they were compelled to an extent, it has become a non-negotiable element in their gameplan across formats. The increase in their pool of pacers gives them the luxury to rotate, irrespective of the opposition and the conditions. In this short period, it has worked in their favour. It enables them to not only take care of the workload of their strike-bowlers but also allows them to go hard at the opposition at all times.
Day 2 at the Oval was one such day — which saw England take a 99-run lead and India finishing at 43-0. Not many runs to bowl with after they were bundled out for 191 on an opening day, India needed their pacers to rescue them again by going for the kill. Even though Joe Root was already back in the hut on Thursday, it was always going to be easier said than done. The use of the heavy roller by England before they came out to bat on Day 1 would have suppressed the live grass, and Day 2 and 3 are traditionally the best days to bat on these surfaces. As captain, you ought to be judicious with the choice of bowlers on days like this, especially when you have two pacers who have already bowled more than 100 overs this series in Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj.
Shardul Thakur and Umesh Yadav, brought into the XI for the Test, are the ones India were banking on to not just get wickets but also stem the flow of runs and bowl those long spells. The pitch, having eased out, wasn't one where wickets were going to come in a cluster. It was the sort of surface that the Indians get back home when they don't opt for raging turners. Dot balls after dot balls fetch wickets.
Two bowlers in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ishant Sharma, who help them a great deal in that regard, are not playing this Test. One because of balance and the other because of rotation. Not to mention the absence of Mohammed Shami, who can transition between attack and defence seamlessly on such tracks.
That India started Day 2 with Siraj when a nightwatchman was in and moved to Bumrah once Craig Overton was dismissed showed where they stood. Once they had the opening, they attacked with Bumrah and Umesh, with the latter removing Dawid Malan as England were reduced to 62-5 inside the first hour. And it is from here on that the plot began to unravel in the manner that India didn't like. With not much swing on offer to aid Shardul Thakur, Ollie Pope and Jonny Bairstow launched a counter-attack that saw England score 61 runs in the hour before lunch. At 139/5, the tide was beginning to change.
"The plan was to bowl maidens and build pressure. We wanted to be patient and not go after wickets. We did it for a while, but in that phase we gave away some quick runs and it opened up the game. From there on they scored a some more. Part and parcel of the game. Some times it works, some day's we couldn't execute," said Umesh Yadav.
Those quick runs meant India had already exhausted Umesh and Bumrah, who had finished their second spells before lunch. This meant in the second session, needing quick wickets, India began with Siraj, who — playing his fourth successive Test in this series — was now beginning to clock only 130kmph with an old ball. With no assistance on offer, Ravindra Jadeja was called to dry up one end, but dot balls were beginning to be elusive. In the overs India attacked with Bumrah, England were content to play him out as Pope scored a fluent 81 with Bairstow and Moeen Ali doing their job with 37 and 35. And once England took the lead with the old ball, it only got better and better for the hosts as Chris Woakes' 50 gave them a 99-run lead.