By Paul Edwards
EMERALD HEADINGLEY (first day of five; India won toss) England, 120 for 0 (Hameed 60, Burns 52) lead India 78 (Anderson 3-6, Overton 3-14) by 42 runs
Hosting the Test immediately after the classic at Lord’s is roughly analogous to following Queen’s unforgettable set in the 1985 Band Aid concert at Wembley. (Ask your parents.) But Yorkshire folk have always liked a challenge and homes take on the character of the people who live there. Yet the task facing England’s cricketers this morning was far tougher. Last week’s defeat had been bruising and bloody. Recovering from losses like that would test their competitive fibre as severely as their cricketing techniques. Perhaps playing at Headingley, a ground where loyalties are famously undivided, was fortuitous…
Now it is the end of that day which promised such a searching examination of Joe Root’s players. The old ground is clothed in the sunlight of a late summer evening and England’s openers, Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed, are walking back to their changing room at the Kirkstall Lane End. Having bowled India out for 78 by mid-afternoon, England are 120 without loss. In other words the day has gone freakishly well for the team out-thought and out-fought at Lord’s. Both Burns and Hameed have passed fifty. Even the most powerful Test teams rarely enjoy three sessions like these, sessions that should define the shape of the match. Not since the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne in 2010 have England’s openers overhauled their opponents’ first innings. But records and statistics do not properly reflect the way in which England trampled on India today. Even the prawns, the nuns and the seagulls in the Leeds crowd cannot quite believe what they have seen. Hameed is unbeaten on 60 and will not telling that tomorrow offers him a rich opportunity on a pitch that is flattening out. No one saw this coming. No one. What just happened?
The first hour of play belonged to another Lancastrian, one who long ago emptied all the thesauri of synonyms for craft and excellence. Of course, Leeds crowds have long ago set aside any county rivalries – even trans-Pennine ones – when England are playing so it was heartening as well as expected that Headingley rose to applaud each of the three wickets taken by James Anderson in an eight-over spell that reduced India to 21 for three inside 11 overs.
Each of Anderson’s victims was caught by Jos Buttler but each triumph was subtly different. KL Rahul was set up by a series of inswingers in the first over of the match before attempting to drive a pitched-up outswinger. Cheteshwar Pujara was beaten by late movement off the wicket and Virat Kohli was undone by a wobble-seam delivery that swung in a shade before holding its own. Anderson’s joy was unbounded at this last success and it was shared by colleagues who remember Lord’s. Thus did a single wicket take its place in one of the five dramas that will constitute this already epic series.
Without ever striking the ball with any obvious force Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane attempted to rebuild India’s innings against an attack that gave them almost nowt to hit. Sharma’s off-driven four off Sam Curran and Rahane’s leg glance off Craig Overton were clearly the shots of a session largely controlled by the home side, whose dominance was emphasised on the point of lunch when Rahane was caught behind off Overton. The corporate lunchers in the Emerald Stand settled down to their four courses in contented fashion. The only thing to disturb their appetites was the blow Joe Root had received on the thumb when fielding at slip.
Forty minutes later the vacherin and crème brûlée were slipping down nicely when England’s captain returned to the field after his own, probably slightly more modest, luncheon. And a quarter of an hour after the resumption it was agreed in the posh seats that a glass of port might be in order when Rishabh Pant flashed at a ball from Robinson but only gave Buttler his fifth catch.
Until Pant’s dismissal the cricket had been hard-fought as India’s batsmen strove to survive against a high-quality seam attack that contained no weak link. Suddenly, though, the tourists’ batting disintegrated completely as the weaknesses of their tail were exposed. Overton took his first wicket when Sharma plinked an attempted pull to Robinson at mid-on. Next ball Mohammed Shami edged to Burns at slip. In the following over Ravi Jadeja and Jasprit Bumrah were both lbw to Curran and India had lost four wickets for no runs in six balls. It escaped the attention of no one who was at Lord’s that both Shami and Bumrah had collected golden ducks. When Mohammed Siraj’s flail only edged a catch to Root at slip India had been dismissed for 78, the ninth-lowest score in their Test history.
Of course none of this would have counted for much had England been 80 for six at close of play and it may be that people with tickets for Saturday were rather nervous when Burns and Hameed strolled out. If so, their anxieties were quickly calmed. Batting with intent against an attack that never rediscovered last week’s venom, the England openers scampered risk-free singles and tucked in to the loose stuff. Hameed hit two fours in the first eight balls he faced and one of them, a square cut through point off Ishant Sharma, would be reprised in the long evening session.
Siraj bowled short to Burns and was pulled into the advertising boards for six. Both batsmen grabbed every opportunity to rotate the strike and India’s fielding became unusually ragged, Hameed gave one chance when he edged Shami through the slips but Sharma at second slip couldn’t lay a hand on it and the ball crossed the boundary rope, thus bringing up the opener’s third Test fifty. By the close Kohli’s team were probably glad to get off the field. Now it is their turn to bind their wounds after a dreadful day. But the prawns and the seagulls are unsympathetic and the nuns are being particularly uncharitable.