Joe Root knew this was never going to be easy.
“I think we’re very understanding of how much hard work it is going to take to win in these conditions,” he told reporters on the eve of the second Test.
“We had to play pretty much a perfect game [in the first Test] so we know what it is going to require for us to win, but that challenge excites us.”
- Rohit Sharma’s superb century puts India on top
- Second Test scorecard: India vs England
Rest assured, if any of the England players had bought into their own hype after victory in Chennai last week, by the end of day one at the same venue this time around, the scale of the task ahead of them was clear.
The tourists needed just three balls to remove talented young opener Shubman Gill, before they dismissed the immovable Cheteshwar Pujara after he had made a start and then sent India’s superstar captain Virat Kohli packing without a run to his name.
And yet it is India who will head into day two with the upper hand. On a pitch that turned sharply from the first morning, a brilliant century from Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane’s elegant half-century helped the hosts to 300-6 at the close.
That is the thing with India, you can get rid of three top-class players in the top five for a combined 21 runs but there are always two more ready to hurt you, not to mention one of the most destructive batsmen in the world at No 6 – Rishabh Pant ended the day unbeaten on 33 – and you can quickly find yourself chasing the game.
That is the case anywhere in the world but doubly so in home conditions.
WinViz at the end of Day 1 in Chennai:
India – 80%
England – 14%
A stand of 162 between Rohit and Rahane led some pundits to suggest India had already managed to bat England out of contention given the expected deterioration of the pitch and the three spinners in the hosts’ XI.
That might be slightly premature but, with the ball bursting through the top of the surface repeatedly on the first day, one can only imagine what it will be doing by day three, let alone day five – such a thing seems a long way off at the moment.
Of course, this is a very different surface to the one for the series opener when England got first go and batted for more than two days in racking up 550-plus. On that pitch, getting a side six down at the end of the first day would be a big success; here it leaves the visitors needing quick wickets on day two to stay in contention.
As Rohit and Rahane amassed 162 between them for the fourth wicket, James Anderson could have been forgiven for being quite pleased that this was the game in which he was rotated out.
Stuart Broad worked hard and Olly Stone impressed in just his second Test, but where reverse-swing kept the seamers interested for large spells in the first match, there was no such assistance for them today.
It was down to the spinners to do the bulk of the damage once the ball lost its shine. Jack Leach continues to get better with every innings after a long time out of the side prior to the Sri Lanka series, showing admirable consistency to build pressure both through keeping runs to a premium and producing a number of big-turning, big-bouncing deliveries.
Moeen Ali took the prize scalp of Kohli with the perfect off-spinner’s delivery, drifting away from the right-hander before turning sharply through the gate to hit middle. It was a big moment but, while he added the wicket of Rahane later in the day, for much of the day he was too hit and miss.
After 18 months out of the side, some rustiness is to be expected and his spells were punctuated by some superb deliveries, but he finished the day having gone at 4.31 runs an over. It simply did not give Root the control over the game he was after.
Root himself was the most economical of England’s spinners on the day, he snared a wicket too, and while he bowled the majority of his eight overs once Rohit had departed, it is hardly a glowing endorsement of the frontline options.
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That said, it would be harsh to criticise Leach on his day-one performance but Moeen will know he needs to combine his clear wicket-taking potential with more consistency.
Let’s be clear, England did not bowl badly, their fielding was good and Ben Foakes was immaculate behind the stumps.
But, as Root said, it took a near-perfect performance to win the opening game and inflict India’s first home defeat since 2017; it is quickly becoming apparent, if it was not already, that they can barely drop from that level if they are to win the series.
As for the second Test, even perfection from here on in might not be enough.
Follow text commentary of day two of the second Test between India and England in Chennai on skysports.com and the Sky Sports app from 3.50am on Sunday.
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