England given reality check as India take charge on opening day of Test series

By Sports Desk January 25, 2024

England were given a sharp reality check on the opening day of their Test series in India, spun out for 246 in Hyderabad before a bruising introduction for debutant Tom Hartley.

India have lost just three times in their last 46 games on home soil and were quick to offer a reminder of the task that faces England’s Bazball brigade over the next seven weeks.

England captain Ben Stokes, who was on crutches after knee surgery in November, struck a vital 70 to give his side a fighting chance in their first innings but on a predictably helpful surface eight of his team-mates fell to spinners Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel.

England, who were dismissed for less than 200 six times in eight attempts on their last visit in 2021, had loaded their own attack with three slow bowlers of their own but they were unable to replicate the same threat as India made 119 for one in reply.

Left-armer Hartley, a selectorial hunch fancied to flourish in the sub-continent, had never opened the bowling in his first-class career but accepted Stokes’ challenge to do so. It proved a gamble too far.

The 24-year-old’s first delivery in the Test arena was brutally smashed for six by Yashasvi Jaiswal, reaching to drag it high into the leg-side in what looked a pre-meditated assault. Four balls later, Jaiswal cleared the ropes again.

Stokes backed his man, keeping him on for an extended spell and keeping the field up, and the runs continued to flow. He struggled to hold both line and length, dragging a couple of long hops into the middle of the pitch and drifting down the leg side as Jaiswal continued to feast.

In amongst the carnage he showed glimmers of promise, and one promising appeal, but his nine-over spell cost a damaging 63 – including 44 in boundaries. It was impossible not to ponder the fate of Hartley’s Lancashire predecessor, Simon Kerrigan, who shipped 53 runs in eight overs on debut in the 2013 Ashes and never played for his country again.

The current regime are less likely to cut players adrift but it was a painful welcome. England’s only wicket came from the more established finger spin of Jack Leach, who had Rohit Sharma caught by Stokes trying and failing an elaborate strike down the ground.

Jaiswal, seen as an up and coming star, finished 76 not out from 70 balls having cashed in on his takedown of Hartley.

England’s day started positively, Stokes batting first after winning a handy toss and watching as Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett shared an opening stand of 55.

Despite some evident swing, the pair backed themselves and picked up an early flurry of fours before Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj made way for spin after eight unsuccessful overs.

The change was profound, with England losing three wickets for five runs in the space of 21 deliveries. Ashwin removed both set batters, Duckett lbw propping forward for 35 and Crawley driving low to mid-off for 20.

In between, the returning Ollie Pope lasted 11 skittish balls and edged Jadeja to slip for just one. Pope has not played since dislocating his shoulder in the second Test of last summer’s Ashes and the cobwebs accrued over six months were there for all to see.

Jonny Bairstow led a restorative partnership of 61 with his fellow Yorkshireman Joe Root, securing a promising lunch score of 108 for three, but further trouble arrived in the middle session. Bairstow (37) had his off stump taken by a cracker from Patel, moments before Root (29) top-edged a sweep to fine leg.

However, Stokes shepherded things impressively at the back end of the innings, which seemed to be disappearing swiftly when Ben Foakes’ nick behind made it 155 for seven. Having played his way in smartly with a secure defence, Stokes began to make his presence felt as he ran out of partners.

The reverse sweeps came out of his bat sweetly, he got value when he opted to drive and after tea he reached his half-century with back-to-back sixes off Jadeja.

Before he was finished he dealt Ashwin a similar blow, but he was last man out in the 65th over when Bumrah got one to jag away off the pitch and part his stumps.

As he walked off England’s score felt close to competitive but Indian aggression and the failed experiment with Hartley made it look slimmer and slimmer. Worse still, England used all three reviews unsuccessfully in just 14 overs – two in an attempt to win Hartley a first scalp.

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