India out-reversed on dry pitch
There was a time when reverse-swing was a strictly Asian art. Well, Pakistani first, and then rest of Asia's. The rest of the world has caught up with it now. Dale Steyn and James Anderson might even be the finest exponents of it. Still, when an England side outdoes India in almost Indian conditions on the reverse-swing front, it must hurt them as much as it should England or Australia if India or Pakistan bowl at top of off more often than them in green seaming conditions. In Nottingham, on a slow and low surface acknowledged by both sides as more Indian than English, the hosts out-reversed India.
England consigned India to two reverse-swing-induced collapses whereas India bowlers mainly relied on the new ball's movement and uneven bounce by hitting the deck hard. There are three aspects to a contest of reverse-swing, and India were short on all three: maintaining the ball, then actually bowling with it, and weathering the storm with the bat once the opposition starts getting it to go.
Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane seem to be India's designated ball shiners. They worked hard on it through India's bowling, but there is more to maintaining the ball for reverse swing. Those commentators who were watching closely, looking for signs of reverse, say England simply maintained the ball better.
Earlier in the year, a Test between South Africa and Australia, played in similar conditions in Port Elizabeth, got ugly because the umpires took an exception to the repeated banging of the ball into the ground by infielders. England were smarter here.
They waited for the ball to go just far enough to justify that throw on the bounce. On occasions throws from mid-off or mid-on reached the stumps at the striker's end on a half-volley, which forced Matt Prior to go back and collect them on the bounce. Stuart Broad didn't mind sticking the boot out when fielding in his follow-through. In 2008, Wasim Akram, the king of reverse-swing, told ESPNcricinfo in an interview: "Sometimes bowlers used to stop the ball played back at them with their foot. If the boot spikes hit the rough side, it was Christmas. If it didn't, you shone the ball and moved on." Liam Plunkett bowled a spell made up almost exclusively of bouncers before lunch on day one, and the ball began to go just after lunch.
The reverse might not have been a direct result of all this, but England were trying more than India. And this is not ball-tampering. Not until it gets so excessive that umpires start to take notice. You have to keep trying, and keep trying within reasonable limits. After maintaining it, though, you need to bowl well with it too. The England quicks do seem to have more pace and accuracy, than India's, to be able to exploit reverse. At various stages, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami have shown they can cause damage with reverse, but they are not quite Zaheer Khan with it. When Cheteshwar Pujara was asked if it was disappointing that England did more with the old ball than India, he bemoaned the lack of carry in the pitch, but isn't the lack of carry the necessity in the first place?
Also India are familiar with batting on such pitches, which is why their two periods of struggle against the reversing ball should come as a disappointment. In the first innings, Pujara went hard at one slightly slower inswinger from Anderson, and offered a catch to short mid-on. This was just when the ball had begun to go with the shine. Virat Kohli followed Pujara by becoming too mindful of inswing, and poked at a delivery wide enough to be left alone in normal circumstances.
The second innings was worse. On the final day, which began with the ball reversing, Kohli committed the biggest mistake: a drive across the line. Ajinkya Rahane repeated Kohli's first-innings mistake by looking to cover for the inswing, thus playing at a delivery wide enough to be left alone. It was a nervous shot, but also a better delivery than what Kohli got in the first innings. MS Dhoni became a victim of inswing later in that session, which could have cost India the Test.
The conditions, by all popular expectations, are not likely to change drastically over the series. It is hard to tell if India are pleased or displeased: they will welcome the soft launch for their batsmen, but these conditions eliminate their spinners and their quicks have struggled to bowl sides out twice for a long time. Reverse-swing promises to be a big factor in the rest of the series, and India will need to get better at dealing with it both when bowling and batting. Watch out for those throws into the ground and stuck-out boots.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo