Root, Moeen restore England from tricky position

Tea England 209 for 3 (Root 93*, Moeen 48*) v India
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AB de Villiers. Hashim Amla. Kane Williamson. Mighty fine batsmen who have been cut to size by a combination of India spinners and pitches since the start of the last season in India. In his first innings in India since this pitch revolution, the resurgence of R Ashwin and the emergence of Ravindra Jadeja, Joe Root had more runs in an innings than all those batsmen managed as he and Moeen Ali restored England from a tricky 102 for 3 at lunch.

At tea they had more than doubled the score without losing another wicket, with Root seven short of a hundred and Moeen two short of a half-century. The role of the toss cannot be overstated in England’s batting. This was the first time in Virat Kohli’s captaincy that India had lost a toss at home where the changing pitches have made the toss crucial. If watching at home, Kane Williamson must be wondering why he didn’t have this luck. His England counterpart, Alastair Cook, went on to enjoy more luck before two overs were bowled than Williamson had in the whole series.

Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli dropped Cook once each off the opening bowlers. Expecting low bounce the cordon had crept closer at the start of the match. The first one perhaps went too fast to Rahane at gully, the second one reached Kohli on the full only because he was well in but didn’t stick. To make it worse for India Murali Vijay dropped a sitter at first slip, reprieving the 19-year-old debutant Haseeb Hameed, who otherwise looked like a solid old-fashioned opener who didn’t mind the new fashion of cutting in the air when the ball was short.

Having reprieved thrice by the time England reached 24, India had lost momentum, but the openers didn’t go on to hurt India much. To the first ball after drinks, Cook fell to Jadeja, having been beaten on the inside edge. He had been looking to move outside the line to face Jadeja, as had Habeeb to Ashwin, but this time he must have felt he had moved too far across. His partner felt the same, and asked him to not review. Replays showed this to be missing the stumps by a long way.

It’s unlikely anybody would have told Hameed he could have saved his captain, but he looked solid in negating Ashwin and Jadeja in the first few exchanges. The only criticism of him would be that he missed out on a short ball and two full tosses from Ashwin early in the piece. Ashwin moved round the wicket to find a way past Hameed’s technique, and trapped him lbw with an offbreak that didn’t turn as much as the batsman expected it to. This, Ashwin’s ninth over, was also around a couple of overs on from the time he had hit his length.

Ben Duckett, demoted to No. 4 after an average tour of Bangladesh, used his fast hands to hit Ashwin for three boundaries off the first 14 balls he faced from Ashwin, but his fear of the lbw accounted for him to what turned out to be the last ball before lunch. He kept looking to stay leg side of Ashwin’s deliveries, and edged this offbreak to give Rahane a shot at redemption. India’s vice-captain took the sharp low catch without drama.

India were now feeling it. The spinners were getting on top of the batsmen. There was to be a 40-minute break. They had been denied for a while by South Africa and New Zealand too, but India had always come back. That is what they were going to do after lunch. After lunch they ran into Root and Moeen.

Perhaps the only error Root made in his one hour in the middle was to ask Hameed to review a plumb lbw. Otherwise he was in silken touch, batting on a first-day pitch and without the scoreboard pressure. In two balls, in the 23rd over, he displayed his mastery with two drives. Ashwin, who was not shy of asking the batsmen to drive, pitched the first ball up but not right up. At the last moment in that drive, Root used his wrists a little to open the face and beat cover slightly to his left. The next ball was a touch fuller, and he unfurled an orthodox cover drive to beat the same man to his right.

That Root was even being asked to beat the man at cover was a sign of the challenge India were facing. Throughout the series against New Zealand, Ashwin hardly bowled with a cover. He often had just three men on the off side, sometimes even two. Now he needed a fourth man. The pitch was not turning as much as it had for him against New Zealand, and because there were no runs on the board he couldn’t afford to be driven.

Ashwin bowled 18 overs on the trot either side of lunch, asking questions of both batsmen, but couldn’t draw half a false stroke from Root. Early after lunch the ball kept low twice, but he found Root watching it like a hawk. At the other end India tried the pace of Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav, looking to break through with reverse swing available, which should encourage England. Root and Moeen were equal to it, not committing to shots early, and waiting for balls that were overpitched.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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