ome matches mark a watershed in a series; others strengthen existing trends. On the evidence of the first day’s play the Emirates Old Trafford Test seems likely to belong in the second category.
By the close of play England had reached 113 for three in reply to India’s first innings total of 152 all out. It was, in other words, one of those days when a side establishes so firm a grip on the game that it will need a mighty fightback for their opponents to get back into the contest.
The chief authors of India’s destruction were familiar figures to the tourists. Stuart Broad took six for 25 and James Anderson three for 46 as India failed to cope with what were, for an hour or so at least, ideal seam and swing bowling conditions. Then, as Matt Merchant’s wicket flattened out in the evening sun, Gary Ballance and Ian Bell added 77 for the third wicket before Ballance was lbw to Varun Aaron for 37 in the final over of the day. Bell, though, remains unbeaten on 45 and the prospect of watching England’s most stylish batsman on the second morning is a delicious one for those with tickets for Friday’s play.
That said, everything went wrong for India from the moment when skipper MS Dhoni won the toss and opted to bat, a fair decision given the conditions in the second half of the day. Unfortunately, India’s innings didn’t last that long, nor did it really seem likely to after England had taken four wickets for no runs in 13 balls to reduce the tourists to 8 for four in the first half hour of play.
In heavy conditions which swing and seam bowlers can barely dream about, Broad had Gautam Gambhir caught at gully for four in the fourth over of the day. The next three batsmen all made ducks, Murali Vijay and Virat Kohli being caught by first slip Alastair Cook off Anderson in the space of three balls before Cheteshwar Pujara nicked Broad to Chris Jordan in the following over.
Some of the Indian batsmen may never have encountered such a close atmosphere – drizzle had delayed the start of play for half an hour – but Anderson and Broad were expert in their exploitation of the conditions and the firm wicket ensured that the nicks carried to slips who could stand far enough back that their chance of taking the catches was maximised.
For over an hour after that rapid tumble of wickets Dhoni and Ajinkya Rahane managed to resist the England attack and Dhoni was even able to mount a measured counter-attack. However, the theme of English dominance was re-established seven minutes before lunch when Rahane nicked Chris Jordan to Bell at second slip. Yet again an English seamer had bowled a ball which compelled a shot only for late movement to defeat the batsman. English county openers with a decade’s experience on the circuit find it difficult to cope in such circumstances.
The afternoon’s play was not quite so painful for Indian supporters to watch. True, seven minutes after the resumption the left-handed Jadeja was lbw to an inswinging James Anderson delivery for nought in identical fashion to his dismissal in the Southampton Test. But Ravichandran Ashwin then supported his skipper in a 66-run stand for the seventh-wicket with Dhoni prepared to attack on the front foot and Ashwin hitting three fours and a top-edged six in his 42-ball innings of 40.
It must, therefore have been a source of frustration to the tourists that as conditions eased both batsmen lost their wickets to catches in the deep. First Ashwin top-edged a pull off Broad to Sam Robson who ran in from deep square-leg to take the catch; then, after Bhuvneshwar Kumar had been bowled by Broad for a six-ball nought, the ball coming back off the seam as Kumar attempted no shot, Dhoni swung the same bowler straight to Jordan at deep square leg.
Finally, the emerging folk-hero Pankaj Singh swiped at his third ball from Broad and was bowled. That was the sixth duck of the Indian innings, equalling the world record for a Test innings.
By now, it was plain that batting was a vastly easier proposition than it had been in the first session. However, this is a good, hard wicket offering seamers plenty of bounce and Varun Aaron was the first Indian to profit when Robson was bowled for six , playing no shot at a ball which clipped his off stump. Five overs later Cook pulled Kumar straight to Pankaj Singh at long leg and departed for 17, leaving England on 36 for two.
Stability was restored by Bell and Ballance but the Yorkshire batsman’s departure may remind the rest of England’s top order that it will need a lot of work and application for their side’s dominance to be fully asserted.
Picture by: Mike Egerton/PA Wire/Press Association Images