England make solid start to first Test in India

Dom Sibley of England scoring a boundary during day one

As England lunch on 67 for two on day one of the first Test, they will be harbouring some serious  worries after spurning what a near-perfect start after India struck two telling blows in latter stages of the first session of the series. 

A steady partnership between Rory Burns and Dom Sibley of 63, a first opening stand above fifty for a visiting side since March 2017, was turned on its head in the space of 12 deliveries. Burns, having made it to 33, was caught off the glove attempting a reverse sweep off off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin before Dan Lawrence was dismissed leg before for a five-ball duck to give Jasprit Bumrah his first wicket at home. 

Things could have got a lot worse when Joe Root was almost run out two balls before lunch. Mercifully, the England captain had made his ground comfortably before the wickets had been broken at the nonstriker’s end. 

It was a reminder of just how quickly things can change in this part of the world. Even on a pitch that looked totally in the batsmen’s favour. Even on a morning where everything seemed to be in England’s favour. 

The day began with an intra-squad ceremony as Joe Root was presented with his 100th Test cap, the 15th Englishman to reach the milestone. And it improved around 20 minutes later when Root won the toss and opted to bat first. The only stumbling block came when he was asked to talk through the team he picked. 

That was understandable given the number of changes to remember. Four in all, with Rory Burns, Ollie Pope, Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer coming into the XI as part of England’s holistic resting policy, and a jarred wrist sustained in the build-up by Zak Crawley. 

It was Burns who got England underway, returning to the fray after missing the two Tests in Sri Lanka to remain at home for the birth of his first child. Any questions of ring-rust or sleepless nights were dissipated with a composed display from the left-hander. Indeed, the dovetailing with Sibley, a right-hander, added to the difficult India had when bowling to the pair. 

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Whatever frustrations they may have harboured in the opening 23 overs of play was mostly reserved for a flat pitch, with tinges of green that suggested a more pleasant time of it for seamers. That did not quite come to pass, particularly for Bumrah, playing the first of his 18 Tests at home. This was not quite the welcoming surface he might have expected. 

Nevertheless, the hosts had legislated for this picking three spinners in their side. Two of them, right-armer Ashwin and left-armer Shahbaz Nadeem were both into their work within 17 overs. Washington Sundar, the allrounder, has yet to turn his arm over. Beyond the odd bit of bounce, there was little doing off the straight, which allowed both batsmen to play square to keep the runs ticking over. 

Which makes Burns’s dismissal all the more tragic. Having established a solid start of 33, with close-in catchers starting to lose interest, an ill-judged reverse sweep to Ashwin popped up off his forearm and was taken gleefully by wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant.

That brought Lawrence to the crease at number three, a position he has performed at first-class level for Essex but not since September 2017. And having shown a strong aptitude against spin with 73 on debut two Tests ago, Kohli called upon Bumrah to deliver a telling blow nine deliveries before the break. 

A hint of reverse swing trapped Lawrence on the crease, scuttling into his pads as he was halfway through a shot to the leg side. Talk of a review with Sibley, who remains 26 not out, was short-lived. Root, on four, will return after lunch knowing he must summon all his nous from those hundred caps to reassert the authority England have thrown away. 

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