Ishant Sharma

Ishant Sharma’s five-for puts India in the ascendancy before England hit back

Eng v Ind, 1st Test, report

Hit For Six!
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A game that has swung one way and then the other seemed to have taken its decisive turn in one three-wicket over from Ishant Sharma either side of Lunch, before a counterattack from Sam Curran and a burst from England’s seamers left it once again in the balance.

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The day began as it ended, with the result in the air and India's noses in front after Ravichandran Ashwin’s dismissal of Alastair Cook which brought the previous day to a close. He resumed bowling with a similar accuracy and potency that had marked his first day performance, taking the first two wickets, including the vital scalp of England captain Joe Root.

The first to fall was Keaton Jennings, an easy-as-you-like edge to second slip, where KL Rahul took a neat catch. His second grab, this time at leg slip off Root, was even better, a chance sharp enough to elicit a confused reaction from the umpires and Root. There was an element too of Root knowing the importance of his own wicket, and therefore being reluctant to drag himself off. It did feel like a pivotal moment.

Ishant Sharma claimed his eighth Test five-for
Ishant Sharma claimed his eighth Test five-for

Jonny Bairstow and Dawid Malan added 31, but there was no air of permanence about their partnership. Bairstow almost imitated Root’s dismissal in nudging just past leg slip first ball, while Malan initial tried to hit out and then to preserve his wicket, doing neither convincingly before edging Sharma to gully.

The scalp fired Sharma up, and he looked consistently threatening even before his killer blow, bowling quickly and moving the ball in the air and off the pitch. A combination of all three did for Bairstow, as an inswinger came in a good deal, too far for the right-hander to countenance leaving, before hitting the seam and straightening, taking the outside edge and nestling in Shikhar Dhawan’s hands at first slip.

Then, two balls later, Stokes fell, another victim of a nigh-on unplayable delivery. This was a straightforward outswinger, but so well directed that the all-rounder had no choice but to play. He duly edged to Virat Kohli at third slip.

England's batting woes resurfaced
England's batting woes resurfaced

That brought lunch, with England 86/6 and in disarray. Two balls after the break it got a lot worse as Jos Buttler too nicked off, though there was some error on the part of the batsman in this case as the No. 7 wafted half-heartedly.

At this point, a three-day finish was on the cards, but an innings of some skill and no little heart from 20-year-old Sam Curran ensured the match would stretch to a fourth, and even gave England a shot at victory. His innings properly took off after the dismissal of Adil Rashid, bowled through the gate by Umesh Yadav – done in by a bit of extra pace and a bit of natural variation, the ball holding its line after the two previous had moved away.

With England eight down, Curran picked his moment to put his foot to the floor, first dancing down and smashing Ashwin down the ground for six, then clearing his front leg, standing still, and clubbing down the ground again for four. He then conjured up the shot of the day to get to fifty, advancing down, backing away outside leg, and lofting Sharma gloriously over extra cover for another six.

Sam Curran smashes Ashwin for his first six
Sam Curran smashes Ashwin for his first six

Sharma completed his five-for, another lovely delivery in the corridor forcing a half-forward Stuart Broad to nick off, but England fans, getting ahead of themselves, still imagined Curran making a Flintoff-esque match-turning century. They had to settle for a more-than-useful 65-ball 63 as he attempted to steer down to third man and edged behind to Dinesh Karthik, giving Umesh Yadav a second wicket.

It brought England’s innings to a close for 180, much less than they would have hoped for at the end of the day, but still enough to set India a tricky 194.

To their credit, England went about their task of defending a sub-200 total with gusto. Stuart Broad, out of sorts in recent times but capable on his day of turning a match in a spell, kicked off the defence with the wickets of both openers. Murali Vijay injudiciously left an inducker and was rapped on the pads before Dhawan aimed a loose drive at a tempter and nicked the away-swinging delivery.

Broad's burst kicked off England's defence
Broad's burst kicked off England's defence

In walked Kohli, as prized a wicket as there is in world cricket, and after his first innings hundred it felt that India’s chances lived and died with him. As wickets tumbled at the other end, that truth only became more evident.

Stokes got Rahul with a beauty, one of those devilishly late movers of which he is capable, seemingly swinging one way then the other before snaffling the outside edge – admirers of swing bowling will have been delighted by what was on offer from both sides today.

Then Ajinkya Rahane went. He is renowned for his caution and technique in difficult conditions, but this was close to a dereliction, chasing a short ball that wasn’t wide enough to cut and underedging to Bairstow.

Can Virat Kohli save India again?
Can Virat Kohli save India again?

It was Ashwin who walked in next, presumably as a nightwatchman though stumps were still over an hour away. He came nowhere near to surviving to the close, his improvised approach – walking down to negate the swing – not enough to deal with the threat posed by Anderson, who pulled his length back enough to make sure any swing was still relevant and enticing another nick behind. India were 78/5, and it looked like England might pull it off with or without Kohli’s wicket.

Then another twist, in a game which has witnessed too many to count. Karthik, having initially looked edgy, grew in confidence as the close grew near, and Kohli did what Kohli does. By the end of play they had added 32, bringing India to within 84 runs of victory. England need five wickets. In one way, not much has changed – as at the start of the day, India are probably slightly ahead – but in another, absolutely everything has happened. The finale promises to be some kind of spectacle.

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