England bowled out India for 191 before suffering a top-order collapse of their own on a bowler-dominated opening day of the fourth Test match at The Oval on Thursday. The hosts also lost their talismanic captain Joe Root in the penultimate over of the day to concede some of their advantage and ended at 53/3 at stumps. Dawid Malan was batting on 26, while nightwatchman Craig Overton was 1 not out with England still trailing by 138 runs.
Earlier in the day, Indian skipper Virat Kohli made 50 but it was number eight batsman Shardul Thakur’s blistering 57 off 36 balls, which lent respectability to India’s first-innings total after they had been put in to bat by Root.
Here are the talking points from the first day’s play at The Oval.
Ashwin continues to warm the bench
One of the jokes going around on the social media after the toss on Thursday was that Ravichandran Ashwin is such a great bowler, that even Virat Kohli couldn’t ‘pick’ him!
With so much focus on Ashwin in the lead-up to this game, his non-selection continued to baffle everyone except captain Kohli as Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami were replaced by Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur, respectively.
Former captain Sunil Gavaskar sounded unconvinced after the toss but was diplomatic, saying, “Now that the team has been picked we will back this team. If it doesn’t work out then later we have a platform to discuss things.”
Former India pacer Ajit Agarkar was more forthright on air, saying: “Don’t think Jadeja has had a lot to do in this series. If your batting is going okay, then you can still gamble… if you are not picking the sixth batsman, playing five bowlers and Ashwin still doesn’t fit in, it is surprising.”
That The Oval seemed greener than usual may have had something to do with India’s decision, especially after Kohli said he “would have bowled too” had he won the toss.
However, it wasn’t enough to convince former England captain Michael Vaughan, who tweeted, “The non-selection of Ashwin has to be the greatest non-selection we have witnessed across four Tests in the United Kingdom. 413 Test wickets and 5 Test hundreds!”
Kohli, a strong proponent of the four-pacer attack, had a part-explanation for again leaving out the world’s No. 2 ranked bowler. “England has four left-handers, so a good match-up for Jadeja, with our seamers bowling over the wicket,” the captain said at the toss. He failed to mention that Ashwin too has a very good record against left-handers.
Indian openers flatter to deceive
The Indian top order, apart from the one exception in their captain, appeared unsure and tentative, perhaps an unpleasant residue of the collapse at Leeds.
While English bowlers adjusted their lengths superbly, got the ball to jag both ways and exploited the charitable Oval bounce, India appeared a bit rattled from the start, evident not only in the way they batted but by the mystery promotion of Jadeja ahead of Rahane.
Under the circumstances, India needed a bit of luck and got it too, with Kohli being dropped on 22 by Root and Rahane getting a DRS reprieve. They simply couldn’t capitalise. No Indian batsman could claim to ever be in, not even Kohli, who scored his second successive half-century, trusted his approach and footwork, unfurled some gorgeous cover drives, offered glimpses of returning to pre-2020 form but then fell suddenly against the run of play, undone again by the nagging Robinson (3/38).
Thakur’s stunning rescue job helps India recover ground
Shardul Thakur has been nicknamed “Beefy” by India coach Ravi Shastri, in a playful nod to former England great Ian Botham, and he showed just why at The Oval on Thursday.
India were in trouble at 127/7 after barely two sessions of the fourth test against England when Thakur launched a stunning, counterattacking cameo of which Botham would be proud. The fastest Test fifty ever seen at the storied south London venue — off just 31 balls — saw the right-handed tail-ender bring India back into the match, with his 36-ball 57 the top score in a total of 191 all out. He had three lusty sixes to go with his seven fours in an innings that briefly rattled an England pace attack that swarmed all over India’s top order, with only Virat Kohli (50) showing any real form.
One six flew over mid-on. Another was swept off his legs. Thakur roared with delight when bringing up his half-century and pointed his bat to the balcony where his India teammates were standing and applauding.
Kohli & Co. sport black armband in Paranjape’s honour
The Indian cricket team sported black armbands on Thursday as a mark of respect for legendary coach Vasudev Paranjape. Paranjape (82) passed away at his Mumbai residence on Monday. While he played 29 first-class games for Mumbai and Baroda from 1956-1970, making 785 runs with two centuries and two half-centuries, Paranjape left a lasting impression in his role as coach and mentor.
Bumrah shows yet again why he’s the man
India’s fightback continued into the start of England’s reply, with both openers falling cheaply to Jasprit Bumrah and Joe Root bowled by Umesh Yadav for 21 just before stumps on the first day’s play.
With England closing on 53/3, the match was in the balance in an oscillating five-match series that is locked at 1-1. “Right now, the game is equally poised,” Thakur said after the day’s play.
Even after being dismissed cheaply, India was back in the game, even more so when Bumrah removed Rory Burns, who chopped onto his own stumps for 5, and Haseeb Hameed, who edged uppishly behind for a 12-ball duck, in his first two overs. Root, the world’s top-ranked Test batsman on the back of three centuries this series, looked set and put on 46 for the third wicket with Dawid Malan only to be clean-bowled by Yadav.