By Paul Edwards
EMERALD HEADINGLEY (second day of five) England, 423 for eight (Root 121, Malan 70, Hameed 60, Burns 61; Shami 3-87) lead India, 78, by 345 runs
Clear opportunities to win first-class cricket matches are rarely apparent after the first day’s play; our game is too long and complex for that. But this morning was different. England began the session with a 42-run lead and all their wickets in hand. If all went swimmingly, they could bat for perhaps six sessions and then challenge India to bat through the fourth and fifth days to save the game. Time had roughly the same status it was accorded by Ken Dodd in his marathon one-man shows: it mattered not one jot.
Well, time is of rather more consequence at the end of this second day, one that was dominated by England’s batsmen until India took five wickets in the evening. Those late successes, two of them enjoyed by the excellent Mohammed Shami, restricted the home side’s lead to a mere 345 runs with two wickets left to fall. Such a position would have seemed glorious beyond imagining to England’s cricketers yesterday morning and it certainly seems so still. But at least those late wickets should mean that India’s bowlers will not have to spend the best part of another day in the field before two more back-to-back Tests. The tourists are leagues behind in this match and they must be grateful for any mercies, however small.
And yet, as the happy, boisterous Yorkshire crowd streamed out of Headingley this evening the name on most lips was that of Joe Root, whose third hundred of the series was full of the fluent mastery that currently comes so easily to him. When Root forced Ishant Sharma wide of mid-on to notch his twelfth boundary and reach three figures off 124 balls almost the whole of the Headingley crowd rose to him, joyously acclaiming the arrival of what they had turned up hoping to see. Let it be noted that the Indian captain, Virat Kohli, also applauded the century; thus did one master of the game acknowledge another. Root’s century was his sixth in this calendar year, a feat previously achieved only by Denis Compton in 1947 and Michael Vaughan in 2002. Not even the nuns are complaining about his conversion rate at the moment.
But somewhat unusually this England innings was not a one-man show. For the first time since 2013 the top four in the batting order all made half-centuries and Root’s innings built on the secure foundation of Haseeb Hameed and Rory Burns’ 135-run stand for the first wicket. That partnership was broken when Burns was bowled by Shami for 61 but that dismissal apart, the first hour of play was pleasingly eventless from the home side’s point of view. Just 13 overs were bowled and 21 runs scored, a tally that included Hameed’s eleventh boundary and Dawid Malan’s first. Those inclined to moan at the modest run-rate would have done well to recall that 24 hours earlier India had been three down for 20-odd.
However, Jasprit Bumrah and Shami were now bowling beautifully to Hameed, giving him no width and interrogating his judgement of what to leave and what to play. At the other end Malan tucked into Mohammed Siraj’s first over and hit four boundaries in his first 28 balls. Eventually the contrast between the two batsmen was very sharp. While Malan’s score ticked up, Hameed’s obduracy became torpor. The opener had faced 28 balls without scoring when a ball from Ravi Jadeja turned past his forward defensive shot and nudged his off stump. Hammed had batted 285 minutes and faced 195 balls for his 68 runs. For all that he had batted in porridge during that last hour it had been a vital innings and a very good one.
At the moment, though, almost any batsman on earth would suffer by comparison if their dismissal preceded the arrival of Root. Batting rarely looks as simple an art as England’s captain has made it appear in this series to date. Dozy Indian fielding allowed him to sprint a single off his first ball and he had made a run-a-ball 14 at lunch. The scoring rate barely slackened on the resumption. Root took two fours off a Jadeja over and 46 runs were scored in 40 minutes before the new ball was taken, although that made no difference to anything.
Root played his trademark back foot forcing shot off Shami, who was also cover-driven by Malan. The crowd relaxed into an afternoon in which simple enjoyment would make up in abundance what it lacked it tension. Such sessions are relatively rare in Test cricket. Root reached his fifty off 57 balls and Malan passed the same mark after facing 99 deliveries. The hundred partnership came up and the lead passed 200.
Kohli looked for someone with a golden arm but he searched in vain. The contrast with Lord’s was could not have been sharper. Then just at the moment when the Darjeeling was brewing in the Emerald Suite India took a wicket when Malan, on 70, shaped to glance Siraj’s final ball before tea but only grazed it on its way to Pant For the first time in the innings Kohli used a review and Richard Kettleborough’s decision was overturned.
In the crowd an Indian supporter held up a scribbled sign saying “Pitch it up. A collapse is coming.” He was wearing a jester’s cap but perhaps he was the type of Shakespearean fool whose apparent nonsense contains unsuspected truths. Certainly the evening brought India a series of useful breakthroughs. The first to go was Jonny Bairstow, who made 29 before he edged Shami to Kohli at slip. The same bowler accounted for Jos Buttler and then a tiring Root was bowled by Bumrah for 121 with one that nipped back through the gate.
Next over Moeen Ali heaved Jadeja to mid-on and there was still time before the close for Sam Curran to hole out at deep square leg off Siraj. Craig Overton ended the day unbeaten on 23 and there might be a few more lusty whacks left in his locker tomorrow morning before Kohli’s top order will begin the task of wiping out this colossal deficit. It is the sort of task for which several of their batsmen are well prepared – batting long is an Indian strength – but should they avoid defeat in this match it will seem like a victory.