The final four days of the first Test between England and India in Nottingham are forecast to feature some nice weather for ducks but during a dry start to what should be the marquee cricket of the summer, four of them turned up early.
They could be found next to the names of English batsmen on a sorry looking scorecard as India began their quest for a first series win on these shores since 2007 with a statement performance. Virat Kohli’s attack rolled the hosts for 183 in 65.4 overs and will resume on 21 for no loss on the second morning.
The defining collapse of six for 22 in 59 balls either side of tea was a case of English fears during the weirdly low-key buildup being realised. Since the 1-0 defeat to New Zealand – itself an education – four of the top seven have not faced a single delivery in first-class cricket and a fifth, Zak Crawley, has faced just six. The peak summer weeks have been handed to white-ball cricket and fingers simply crossed for the Test team.
India have played just one first-class match on tour, it must be said, yet their focus in training since that World Test Championship final defeat to the Black Caps in June has only been on one format. And a seam attack that saw its tyres pumped by Kohli on Tuesday certainly looked up to speed, delivering a clinical display led by Jasprit Bumrah’s four for 46 and Mohammad Shami’s three for 28, but with no weak link from the support cast of Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur.
For England the chief resistance came from Joe Root, putting on 72 for the fourth wicket with the recalled Jonny Bairstow (29) and top-scoring with 64. But when the England captain was trapped lbw by Thakur amid the frenzied start to the evening session, he didn’t even bother to review, trudging back to the pavilion with the look of a man who is becoming tired with the team’s fortunes resting on his shoulders alone.
By contrast, Kohli bristled in the field after losing the toss, while his decision to stand down Ravichandran Ashwin in favour of the extra seamer – with Ravindra Jadeja his sole spinner – was vindicated by what followed. India struck early in proceedings too, Bumrah lasering one into the pads of Rory Burns in the first over for the opener’s fifth duck in 11 innings. When the Trent Bridge crowd met the first run of the day 15 minutes later with ironic cheers, India’s captain must have sensed a mood of concern.
Kohli marshalled his bowlers smartly overall, keeping their energy levels relatively in sync, while two of his three reviews paid off. The first of these, Crawley caught behind off Siraj before lunch for a mildly encouraging 27, did require some persuasion from Rishabh Pant after the wicketkeeper had pouched the scratched inside edge and Kohli, who had burned one for an lbw shout three balls earlier, wore a smile of gratitude.
And after Dom Sibley had been removed early in the afternoon, the opener plopping a catch to a well-stationed short midwicket of Shami for a 70-ball 18 that will only increase calls for Haseeb Hameed to be recalled, Kohli’s second successful use of the DRS system was pivotal. It came amid an aggressive move that saw Shami and Bumrah go hard at Bairstow and Root on the stroke of tea.
The two Yorkshiremen had grafted hard over the course of nearly two hours. Bairstow was displaying a tighter technique against the red-ball in his first first-class outing of the summer, while Root meant business, his head down in the main, the green-tinged pitch subject to regular gardening, but the England captain still unfurling some delightful drives and deft guides. When Root creamed one off Siraj through cover for four to reach 23, he overtook Alastair Cook to become England’s leading all-format scorer.
But the bustling Shami changed the complexion of the session, producing a beauty that swung into Bairstow, seamed a smidge more, and thudded into his pads. Umpire Richard Kettleborough had his doubts, so too Shami and a number of India’s fielders, but Kohli sent it upstairs and was handsomely rewarded.
England went into the break on 138 for four but India had opened up an end to attack after the restart. Shami, who has found past visits to England frustrating by way of beating the bat without success, struck first when the newly arrived Dan Lawrence fell across his fourth ball and glanced a catch down leg, with Bumrah following this up by removing Jos Buttler for a 17-ball duck via a tame poke outside off.
Once Thakur wiped out Root and Ollie Robinson in the space of four balls – the latter becoming England’s 31st duck in nine Tests this year – it was over to Sam Curran to marshall the tail. The all-rounder swung hard for an unbeaten 27 but neither Stuart Broad or Jimmy Anderson could resist Bumrah’s switch to yorker mode, nor find a precious breakthrough when Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul batted through to the close.
This added up a start England could ill-afford, not least after losing their talisman, Ben Stokes before the series and selection-wise the response the all-rounder’s absence was to once again overlook Jack Leach and plump for a four-seamer attack.
It is the sixth time in 21 Tests under Chris Silverwood that England have done so in what is an ongoing source of debate. But the main issues right now sit both higher up the order and where English cricket’s priorities sit more broadly.