A pinch of misfortune and a handful of frustration
February 13 2021
Both Rohit and Rahane were reprieved due to third umpire's poor calls.
In his previous life as an author and journalist, Ed Smith, England's chief selector, wrote a book about luck. He concludes the book with the story of how he met his wife. She had changed plans at the last minute after a holiday to France, heading to Kent by train to see her parents on the way back rather than returning straight home to Durham. Smith said the chances of him being on the same train were close to zero. But there they were. They struck up a conversation and the rest is history. "There was no guiding hand of fate," Smith wrote. "It was luck."
How England might have wished to have had a little more luck on the opening day of the second Test. Over the course of 88 overs, India's skill and talent and tactics were the most important factors in the relative positions of the two teams at the close but misfortune certainly played its part for England in a number of ways. The tourists stuck to their task manfully and did not do a lot wrong with the ball. And when you do that, bowling first against a gun team, a little bit of luck can go a long way. Unfortunately for England, they just weren't the right side of things.
Perhaps they will count themselves unlucky to run into Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane in the sort of form they were in although that would do a disservice to how well both batted. There was nothing lucky about their partnership. The pair played beautifully on a pitch that was more akin to a third or fourth day surface than a first. Rohit made things look as easy as Sunday morning while Rahane was less silky but equally as effective. They have put India firmly in the driving seat in this game.
If the performances of Rohit and Rahane owed more to skill than anything else, there were other moments of ill fortune or bad luck that England would have hoped to have gone their way. Most obviously, they would have loved to have won the toss on a pitch that is already misbehaving alarmingly. Unfortunately for Joe Root, it fell Virat Kohli's way, consigning England to batting last. Right now, that looks as if it is going to be about as much fun as having root canal surgery. If winning the toss was important in game one, it was vital here.
The tourists would have also hoped that a number of miscues from India's batsmen went to hand throughout the day. At least eight chances hit the turf just in front of a fielder, the exasperation of England's players growing with each one. Rohit edged Jack Leach and then Moeen Ali just short of Ben Stokes at first slip when he had 41 and 51 to his name respectively. Cheteshwar Pujara had nicked edge in front of slip earlier too. It was a theme of the day. On the final ball, Rishabh Pant narrowly avoided giving short midwicket a catch.
If some of these deliveries didn't reach the fielders because of the soft hands of India's batsmen, others were simply lucky not to be caught. On another day.
Then there was the umpiring. Or more specifically the third umpiring. Anil Chaudhary had an excellent match as a standing umpire in the first Test but he had a poor day up in the stands today. Rohit was clearly stumped by Ben Foakes off the bowling of Leach in the final session. There was no part of the batsman's back foot behind the line and given how close it was, it was surprising that Chaudhary made the not out decision in little more time than it takes to unwrap a Mars bar.
More drama was to follow when England reviewed a catch from Rahane at short-leg off Leach. Chaudhary reviewed the initial shot, which clearly showed India's vice-captain had not hit the ball but did not ask for the footage to be rolled on. Had he done so, he would have seen the ball bounce up and flick Rahane's glove on the way to Ollie Pope. Root clearly asked the standing umpire to tell Chaudhary to roll the footage on as England were appealing for the catch off the glove. Either that message did not get passed on or it was not acted upon. Rahane was given not out.
These two incidents did not cost England much in terms of runs. Rohit was caught on the boundary two runs after his reprieve while Rahane was out in the over after his let-off, bowled by Moeen. Even so, it was a disastrous half an hour for the officials, less bad luck than incompetence. At least England were given back the review they initially lost after the incorrect not out call against Rahane.
It was a frustrating period on a frustrating day for England who tried more or less everything they could. The only negative aspect to their performance was that India managed to score 300 runs on a pitch that is offering the bowlers a lot of assistance. While England did not generally bowl poorly, nor did they apply as much pressure as they would have wanted. Partly that was because of Rohit's fluency and partly because batting was easier when the ball got softer. But it was also the result of too many easy runs offered up, particularly from Moeen.
Replacing Dom Bess in the team, this was Moeen's first red-ball match since August 2019. Some rustiness was understandable if not expected. He conceded 112 runs from his 26 overs which was nevertheless a disappointing return on this surface. In truth, though, while Moeen was clearly not at his best, offering too many scoring opportunities off the back foot, nor did he bowl particularly badly either. When he got his length right, he threatened and his line was generally very good, attacking outside off-stump.
It was that line which tempted Kohli into a booming drive only for the ball to spin sharply back through the gate and bowl him for a duck, just his twelfth in Tests, during the opening session. That was an early bright spot for Moeen but things got more difficult as the day wore on. Whether Bess would have performed any better is a moot and irrelevant point. He is not playing. England will just hope that Moeen is better for the run out. They will need him to score some runs on this pitch too.
Leach was the pick of England's bowlers, closely followed by Olly Stone who was included ahead of Chris Woakes to give England some extra pace. He immediately made an impact, dismissing Shubman Gill in his first over. Later, Stone cranked the pace up to 90mph. Leach found a nice groove, curving and dipping the ball beautifully at times. His dismissal of Cheteshwar Pujara was a nice bit of bowling, forcing the batsman into fencing outside off-stump to a ball that turned and bounced a touch more than he was expecting. Leach finished the day with two wickets but he deserved more. On another day.
Root was inventive with his fields. He had a leg-trap for Pujara facing Stone early on, with a short-leg, leg-gully and leg-slip all in place. When Stuart Broad returned after lunch, he bowled at the stumps with four men catching in front of the bat. There was perhaps a touch of reverse swing from Stone in the afternoon session too, although nowhere near as much as James Anderson found on the final day of the opening Test. Moeen bowled over and round the wicket, Leach the same. Root bowled some overs too and got rid of Ravichandran Ashwin. England explored as many options as they could.
But the fact remains that by the close, India had reached a commanding total on this pitch. Indeed, it could already be a match-winning one. While Rohit and Rahane played in fine fashion, England didn't do a lot wrong. They may have wanted a little more discipline with the ball and a little more good fortune too. Professional sports teams rarely like to acknowledge the role that luck plays. It goes against the grain of application, skill and determination. But it clearly plays a part in all aspects of life. And England would have wanted a bit more of it
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