England’s day? Probably but that wonderball from Bumrah to finish the opening joust tilts the balance back towards tetchy equilibrium, methinks. If a heroically solid Sibley could have seen that final over out – and the signs were that he probably would – then the visitors would feel relatively in command. But now if an early wicket falls tomorrow, England might be looking at 350 rather than the 500+ they will feel they must aim for.
I thought the Slowish But Admirably Purposeful One would make it through, such was his focus. Bumrah’s electrifying yorker did for that theory. It had been a day when India’s main men predictably performed and their allegedly lesser lights, predictably, did not: Washington Sundar and Shahbaz Nadeem failing to back up the largely consistent work of Ishant, Ashwin and Bumrah. Not that England raced away at any stage. More that the (likely) England plan to single out or pressurise the relative newcomers worked pretty well; breaking up the continuity of the home team’s effort.
After a creditable start from Burns and Sibley had kept the metaphorical crowd quiet, there was an explosion of drama towards lunch. Then later a boom at the close. In between, the England skipper had simply stayed in his richly productive groove. Now, plainly, if some combination of Root, Stokes, Pope and/or Buttler get in, their stroke-making may at the very least make this First Test safe. They *might* even rip this right out of India’s reach. Exciting. But hey; read how it all seemed live, from 4 am. It was a genuinely absorbing day.
So we’re back, wonderfully, in penetrating sunshine. Or it feels that way, at 4 am, here. All-comers welcome to make an early brew and wipe away the sleep. Free cricket is back.
Chennai from some angles looking like a cubist Ageas Bowl: the pitch inevitably dry but – word is – holds some patchy grass. Seems barely concievable and let’s not be expecting too much, as Sharma lollops in to Burns. There’s a chance, strictly speaking, early, as Burns middles a glance low and behind but it barely counts as an error from batsman or keeper. We all settle.
Bumrah partners Ishant with his walk/gallop/slam. Immediately it’s fascinating to see how conditions dictate: it being understood that there will be minimal lateral movement so yaknow, bowl at the sticks. Both bowlers do their job of offering no width, with a field set straight and extra man or men to leg. A huge, delicious contrast to options in the UK.
We get quiet cricket, which is of course fabulous, for England. Slowish accumulation but both Sibley and Burns look focused, with the former’s hands-away-from-body quirk rarely feeling any kind of issue. Burns, meanwhile, looks taut, muscular and determined. 16 for 0 after 7 brings in Ashwin for Bumrah but no alarms.
Bumrah will switch and Sharma will rest and the only nervy moments for us sleepy folks back home are a couple of medium-iffy singles, one of which raises a genuine smile from both batsmen – who seem in, despite their racing hearts. Sibley threads Ashwin beautifully through midwicket for four to go to 19, from 48. Ideal. Without offering major freebies in the field, the home side are hardly flawless. Nadeem’s weird potential ankle-breaker at the boundary – stepping onto the escaping ball – not the only moment to rile Kholi.
Both England openers have their quirks but both build their particular groove with real conviction. The introduction of Nadeem (left arm spin) for the 17th over offers Sibley a rare opportunity to free hands and cut square, for four. The fifty (51) arrives on 19.3 overs, for no loss.
Shortly afterwards Burns *really does* charge Ashwin, dispatching him powerfully, through wide mid-on, for the morning’s boldest moment. It’s followed by the ugliest, for England, as the left-hander conjures a ridicu-sweep – a reverse – against India’s leading spinner and succeeds only in flipping the ball up, to the incredulous but grateful keeper. Unthinkable, heinous error from Burns, who is gone for 33.
Somebody somewhere will make the argument that the shot was on. That he was trying to lift the momentum, having established some meaningful initiative. Cobblers. We are just before lunch in the first knock of a Test Match against INDIA – at their place. Your next bat is a brilliant novice. Put the bloody shot away until you’re on 164 for 0.
Lawrence comes in, suddenly exposed… and is nailed by a slanted-in in-swinger, from Bumrah, fifth ball. Probably reversed. England go from 63 for 0 to 63 for 2. Lunch.
In other news, by 7 am I’m through two cups of tea and a hot lemon. And two toasted tea-cakes. (I may be telling you this because we’re into another quiet period). Root & Sibley now nudging this forward. Kohli in an extraordinarily straight catching position as Sharma comes in to Sibley. Ver-ry close to the cut strip. 78 for 2 after 34.
Some sense in the 35th over that Ashwin is finding something. Touch of spin, certainly and that flow that comes with a breakthrough, perhaps? Beats Sibley’s outside edge. Softer ball now but reverse evident, as Ishant follows. A shout against Root but the ball’s doing too much – so no review. Conditions may be bat-friendly but India look increasingly on it. Patience and grit imperative, from England.
“Something’s happening, pressure’s building” says the excellent Butcher, on comms. It’s true that both Ishant Sharma and Ashwin are testing the batsmen. Great spell of Test Cricket. Meanwhile, in Pembrokeshire, it’s effing plastering down. 81 for 2 off 38. Sibley’s looking less comfortable against Ashwin. Nadeem will bowl the 40th.
The left-armer looks like he’s going to spin it – and we’re hearing that he’s using the breeze well – but he’s not finding a consistent furrow, here. Washington Sundar follows him but Root advances, with care, and drives for four, through extra. Could the bowling changes offer respite, for Root and Sibley? How important will that be?
92 for 2 after 42. Sibley has 35 off 131. Have no problem with that. Build.
Ah – Root reverses Washington Sundar. Well-executed, picked the right line, but bold. Sibley then crunches Nadeem through midwicket for four. Possibly England looking to cash in on the less illustrious bowlers? Team plan? Bold. 100 up, two down. Game poised.
A false shot from Sibley against Washington. Leading edge. But he follows with the kind of free-flowing hoik over square leg that makes you think that England are looking to put some pressure on the new boys. Root confirms this to take the partnership past fifty, sweeping Nadeem hard, for four. Real arm-wrestle for domination going on right now. 114 for 2, as Nadeem, foolishly, no-balls. A peach of a clip for Sibley closes the over: boundary. He has 48 and England are 119 for 2 off 48.
Bumrah needs to return. He does. No dramas, two from the over. Ashwin joins his A-List bowling partner. Poor misfield gives Sibley an impressive fifty. Impressive not just for that trademark stickability: he’s waited, stayed honest and picked up enough boundaries (7) to avoid an innings stall. 51 off 153. Good work.
Wonder-combo, from Bumrah, who offers a slower ball then disguises the fast yorker. Sibley has to drop the bat, sharpish. He does it. Just: thrilling escape. Bumrah now a proper handful.
Rare poor, short delivery from Ashwin crashed angrily to square leg by the England skipper. Next delivery is again shortish; Root dances again and clatters, again convincingly, through extra. He is 44 from 95. England are 138 for 2. TV focuses on the quality of the ball; soft with seam gone fluffy.
Ishant still manfully producing deliveries which nip either way, a little. He has 9 overs, 0 for 12. Ashwin will bowl the last over before tea. Excellent session for England: 73 runs from 30 overs, no losses. A nice round 140 for 2 after 57 overs. Puts them ahead. With Stokes, Pope and Buttler in the queue, they will be feeling good.
Ishant Sharma will open up after the break. He turns Root around and draws an edge. Narrowly fails to carry: another fine ball that left Root a touch off the pitch. One from the over. Nadeem follows. He drops one short but escapes with just the single, to Root, who had struck hard, into the ground. The captain then cuts away and with Washington failing rather weakly to retrieve, he moves beyond 50 yet again. 51 off 110, to be precise. England on 148 now, for 2.
Ishant bowls a rare bouncer (and no-balls). Root plays classically high-to-low and is a tad unfortunate not to claim four more. Great response, mind, from Ishant, who threatens the edge with one that holds its line.
Nadeem offers a further short one, to Sibley. Cut away behind square for four. Root is inevitably catching him, score-wise but this is such an important knock for Sibley – and the tour, you suspect. With 62 overs done, Root has 56 off 117 and Sibley 60 from 200 balls. The partnership is now worth 96.
Bumrah returns, with the game moving gently against him. Root middles a slightly widish one but finds point, before caressing a pearler through the covers – possibly the shot of the day. It brings him up to Sibley’s score, of 60. 100 partnership now up. If England get signicantly beyond 200 for 2 before the new ball – which seems likely – then India will really need to find something… at the end of a long day. (They might, of course: Ishant has looked consistently good and Bumrah, without being the unplayable magician England may have feared thus far, has that magnificent propensity).
Sundar Washington isn’t helping: pie down leg easily dismissed with another aggressive sweep, from Root. Four. A further sweep garners two more, so six from the over as Root gets to 70. 177 for 2. Twelve overs to the new ball.
A little frustration creeps in, for Sibley, who advances and drives hard, for no runs. But he soon puts the fury away and drops on anything on a line and length. Defence very much intact. Root finally makes an error on the sweep, top-edging fortuitously into space around mid-wicket. Two balls later he crunches Nadeem defiantly for four more, with the same shot. 185 for 2 after 71.
Pant, in desperation, having raced twenty yards and flung off a glove, tries for a *ver-ry ambitious* run-out. Misses by miles. Overthrows. Oh. And it’s Nadeem’s fourth no-ball as well. Insult to injury. Shortly afterwards, it’s 200 for 2, off 73.4, with Washington Sundar bowling. Root goes into the nineties with a gorgeous, slightly short-armed punch through mid-wicket, for four. Absolute class. Drinks.
Delightfully late cut gets Root four to third man. 98. What a knock this has been! Increasingly bright, confident and expansive. Sibley also grabs a boundary from Sundar, collaring the 150 partnership as he does so. 214 for 2, off 76, with Sibley retaining the strike. When Nadeem again drops short, the opener cuts hard to the boundary: he has 76. Both players plainly looking to cash in before any new ball – now probably only 3 overs away.
Root drives straight, for 1. Sibley takes 2. We await The Moment. Misfield offers Sibley 4 more – swept, emphatically. Finally Root tickles one to fine leg to claim a genuinely fine century, in his one hundredth Test. The man’s in sensational nick: fabulous to watch, again.
Ashwin will bowl the 79th – presumably to loosen him up for the new ball?
In the 80th, bowled by Sundar, Root absolutely bolts a two, with notable energy. Ashwin and Virat have a prolonged chat; to break up the game as much as search for any immediate breakthrough. Clearly this is *all about* the new ball. At that 80 over mark, England are 235 for 2. Now: deep breath and start again.
Sod’s law; India, who have been unhappy with this ball for thirty overs, now pass up the opportunity to change it. Mind games. Weirdly, Ashwin gets freakish bounce and turn – I think for the first time today – and that soft old ball races away to leg for four byes. (Lols). Enter, belatedly, the new ball.
Ishant Sharma, deservedly, will take it. First ball swings – early and harmlessly. Third ball is smoothed out through extra cover: ball was widish but confidently dispatched. Over seen out without difficulty but there was inevitably a little more bounce, plus that possibility for regulation swing.
Bumrah next. Two good balls (holding their line) beat Root. He will need to re-focus, as will Sibley. 249 for 2, off 83, now.
Different level of carry, for Ishant but Sibley happy to leave and see out the day. Root gets a touch of cramp, whilst defending Bumrah, who is looking sharpish, again. Runs have slowed, which is fine – to be expected, even – but with ball generally finding the middle of the bat and Sibley back to his doughty, defensive best, no issues. 250 up and 5 overs remaining. England have eyes on survival and the proverbial ‘platform’. One suspects that we’ll see Ashwin come in, to see if he can disrupt the (slow)flow, or even break the partnership, which may approach 200 by the close.
Sure enough, we have Ashwin, for the 87th. Hilarious drama, as Root finishes the over flat on his backside, with Kohli offering brief cramp-relief, the batsman having smashed Ashwin for six! Inevitably it’s the first maximum (o-kaaay, I know) of the innings and it intrudes rather shockingly into what appeared to be the natural retreat into overnight safety. Extraordinary.
We arrive at the final over, with the 200 partnership now up, off 365 balls. Sibley will face. His head could barely be more over the ball as he drops into forward or back defence mode. But a fast yorker may have nailed him! We await the review…
Another stunning toe-crushing ball, swinging in late. Looked tight. Would be cruel to lose any batsman now… but that’s how it is. Sibley gone for a tremendously important, if typically unattractive knock. He made 87 before that Bumrah screamer exposed him.
England finish on 263 for 3 at end of play. Their day but gutting for Sibley. On the place side, Stokes knows what’s ahead of him and has the evening to gather. Another Big Day tomorrow. The home will be looking for their B-List bowlers – Nadeem, Washington Sundar – to provide better consistency through the game. England will be hoping for 500.