In the end it was rain that had the final say. The fifth day in Nottingham had promised so much – India needing 157 more runs for victory, England a further nine wickets – but it ended without a single ball being bowled and the two sides settling for a draw.
Both sets of players fancied their chances of taking a 1-0 lead into Thursday’s second Test at Lord’s and so neither left Trent Bridge feeling like they had got away with one. As ever, Joe Root was keen to accentuate the positive, his century on day four asking India to deliver their highest successful chase in England with a target of 209.
“On the final day, and with the pressures of batting on a fifth-day wicket, things could very quickly have fallen in our favour,” said Root. “We certainly believed that we’d have been able to create nine more chances. If we’d have been good enough to take those then we could have been sat here 1-0 up, but unfortunately the weather has won.”
At the rather soggy presentation Virat Kohli also rued a missed opportunity, declaring himself satisfied with the intent displayed by his charges and stating that the make-up of his side – one which saw the great Ravichandran Ashwin miss out and seamer Shardul Thakur step to claim four wickets – could well be their template for the series.
Jasprit Bumrah’s nine victims across the two innings was clearly the standout for the tourists and Kohli also praised his two openers, Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul, for putting on 97 in their first innings, the latter promoted after two injuries and top-scoring with 84. “We certainly felt like we were on top of the game,” Kohli added.
Which captain to believe? Certainly India made the running for the majority and more questions linger around England’s best XI. The batting is so reliant on Root, with his 1,064 runs this year accounting for nearly a third of their overall output. Dan Lawrence, threatened by Ollie Pope approaching full fitness, is their next highest scorer with 354.
Root’s claim they grew into the match after being bowled out for 183 on day one is not without merit but comes with the caveat that, after his scores of 64 and 109, the next best score was a 32 from Sam Curran. Jonny Bairstow’s return to the side was promising, at least, and though starts of 29 and 30 were cut short, he lined up well.
It may be that a low-scoring match – and a desire not to betray any panic so early in a five-match series – sees Root and Chris Silverwood back the incumbents. That said, Zak Crawley averaging 11 since what was thought to be a breakthrough double-century last summer, will inevitably invite debate about his continuation at No 3. Root talked up the 23-year-old’s maturity here and stressed that enjoying himself was key.
This may sound irrelevant, yet it was clearly a feature of his own performance at a time when, having lost the services of both Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer, and seen off-field angst about the winter grow among his squad, the captain could easily have been overwhelmed. Instead, by remembering why he loves batting, the runs flowed.
Haseeb Hameed would be the top-order alternative, the in-form Nottinghamshire opener having made a century against the Indian attack in Durham a fortnight ago. There will be those who wonder if he should replace Dom Sibley, however, with his 133-ball 28 the type of innings to back the claims of supporters and detractors alike.
Then there is the balance of the team. India fancy they have theirs sorted, while England cannot say the same. Without Stokes and Chris Woakes, the obvious player to achieve the desired combination of four seamers and one spinner is Moeen Ali, yet he is not even in the squad. Jack Leach has earned the right to be the first-choice spinner but with no seam-bowling all-rounder, he struggles to get into the side.
At least the lost final day means no obvious need to rotate one of the three main seamers – Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ollie Robinson – on grounds of workload. Root was particularly impressed with the latter, whose maiden five-wicket haul suggested that grimly overshadowed debut in June is in the rearview mirror.
“He’s got a unique set of attributes,” said Root. “He has a very high release point, he makes things happen, he makes the ball nip around and his accuracy in this game was exceptional. He showed what he is very capable of doing at this level.”
Overall a Test that started with gripes about the schedule and a lack of preparation almost became a thriller because of it. Rain may have settled the first instalment but with both sides now up and running, the remainder of the series promises plenty.