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5 August, 2021 01:10:09 PM
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India's opening day of nous, discipline and snarl

Cricbuzz, Bangalore
India's opening day of nous, discipline and snarl

Virat Kohli had finished his pre-match press conference on the eve of this Trent Bridge Test with a slew of exam metaphors, involving questions, answers, lessons and preparations that almost seemed like an ode to India's jersey sponsor, an ed-Tech company. All of it made a little more sense after his side enjoyed one of the most pleasing starts to a Test series away from home in recent times, a bowling performance of discipline as well as genuine snarl and snap.

It is not beyond the realms of this highly-skilled bowling unit to knock over a patchy England side for 183. But such a simplistic deconstruction would hide their concerted efforts to right the little wrongs of recent times. This performance had the imprints of thorough planning from everyone right down to the analyst Hariprasad. Nothing exemplified it more than Jasprit Bumrah's first over where he forced three plays out of Rory Burns from the first four deliveries.

Perhaps, the WTC Final was an aberration because Bumrah has a freakish tendency to rock up at a venue and find the right lengths. Here, the action had moved a couple of metres up the pitch when compared to the pretty plays and misses he was eliciting out of New Zealand's batsmen. His fifth ball curved back into the left-hander for an LBW and he was up and humming once more.

India had showed they were taking their lessons seriously even before that first over of the game when Kohli revealed a substantive change to the guts of his starting XI after losing his seventh straight toss in Test matches on these shores. After the skewed balance in Southampton, he had course-corrected to a 4-1 seam-spin combination.

However, the attack was missing a combined 719 Test wickets in the form of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ishant Sharma. What it meant was that two of India's seamers - Md. Siraj and Shardul Thakur - were playing their first Tests in these conditions so the onus was on the other two to live up to their senior billing.

If Bumrah had found the optimum lines and lengths, Shami had been camping there since the Test Championship final. Fast bowlers in their pomp instill fear in the hearts of batsmen. Shami was so good today that his own slip cordon, comprising Kohli, Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul, was jittery.

Every time he would get the ball to jump, move, miss the bat or kiss the edge, a spontaneous cheer would rise from behind the stumps. Then they would all go silent and watch on the giant screen the replay of the ball darting around dangerously.

The bowling conditions were a good trade-off for Kohli's toss loss but there's always an inherent risk associated. You take your eye off for a second, give a batsman an opening, and a telling contribution can make you pay dearly in a low-scorer. Then you look back at those sessions and rue the lost opportunities, like at Cape Town, 2018 or Perth, 2019, something Kohli implored his team to avoid on the match eve.

Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow threatened with a half-century stand, an encore of their partnership from the opening day three years ago. But despite the oohs and aahs becoming sparse events, India's bowlers stayed in the contest. Then they moved seamlessly to a Plan B by shifting their line of attack much straighter, similar to the leg-theory they'd adopted in Australia.

It's an interesting ploy, especially in England where a lot of Test cricket involving right-arm quicks and right-handed batsmen is about the threat of the outside edge with the inswinger used more to complete a set-up. One of the pitfalls of this strategy is the runs to legside which India attempted to cover with a mid-wicket and a deep square-leg. When executed right, the straight lines become mentally taxing on the batsmen in that they have to play at every ball. Then the ones that Bumrah, Shami and Siraj can straighten off the seam became an even bigger threat.

All it took was an over of Shami with a Tea break in between for India to surge ahead. Bairstow eventually missed a nip-backer and Dan Lawrence saw a ball too straight, failed to keep up with the movement and tickled it down to Rishabh Pant. Unlucky Shami? Not today.

Just as Jos Buttler walked out to bat, dark clouds began enveloping Trent Bridge and the floodlights were turned on. Kohli had mentioned that his team, by virtue of being in England for over two months, were better equipped to understand and handle the vagaries of the English weather. It was time to shelve the straight lines and let Bumrah swoop in to attack. He toyed with Jos Buttler, hooping the ball around corners, not giving him a single driveable ball, before nicking him off for an 18-ball duck.

England were 145 for 6 with half-centurion Root joined by Sam Curran, India's scourge from the 2018 series. Shami had just finished another spell when Siraj began with an out-of-character loose over that ended with a swivel-pulled four from Root. This was the next checkpoint, an early warning sign of a lower-order resistance. Kohli instantly swapped out Siraj after that one over, for Thakur, who dismissed Root with his first ball. If the second session was about damage control and staying in the contest, this third one was about hammering home the advantage. A couple of Bumrah yorkers later, England were bowled out, losing their last seven for 45.

Kohli's move to bring back Thakur and its immediate success was also validation for the four-seamer composition which allowed him to replace an underperforming seamer quickly without having to bowl a few lesser-threatening overs of spin or extend the spell of a tiring bowler, both of which cost India in Southampton when New Zealand escaped from 135/5 to post 249.

As a result of their near-perfect planning and execution with the ball, India might just have the perfect base to launch a victory push from. If they can repeat this nous with the bat, they could treat themselves to the immensely satisfying experience of winning the first Test of a series, something that's eluded them for a while now.

 

SI

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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