Aaron quickens India pulse
Rarely does MS Dhoni collect a ball with fingers pointing skywards and the ball thudding into his gloves. Even on this pitch, the quickest this set of India players might have played on, he barely felt the thud. Not from one end, though. Varun Aaron, playing his first Test in two-and-a-half years, only his seventh first-class match since his last Test, having recovered from five stress fractures over his short career, repeatedly kept thudding into those camouflage gloves when not drawing a hurried response from the batsman.
It is too early to say anything substantial about Aaron - he has yet to come back for a proper second spell on the day, he has not been the most accurate, this is inherently a quick pitch, and he is not 95mph either - but there is pace, and that should excite India.
Raw pace sometimes get underrated. Sometimes you can get away with lack of accuracy if you have that raw pace. All three of his wickets have come through pace, and more satisfactorily two of those have come with the full ball after he had pushed the batsmen back. Watching a batsmen bowled through the gate after having been troubled with a bouncer previous ball is something Indian fans don't usually get to celebrate. Aaron did that to Moeen Ali after extending, in consent with his captain, his over by one spell.
Aaron's role in the team is to bowl short and sharp spells, but India don't have the luxury of sustained pressure from the other end, so as to give Aaron - like Michael Clarke does Mitchell Johnson - four-over spells religiously. "There is no role as such," Aaron said, asked if he had the liberty to go flat out in short bursts. "Obviously there is a clear message that I have to bowl quick whenever I bowl. I have bowled a six-over spell too, so bowling five or six overs is not a problem. It depends on the situation also. But yeah, shorter spells are always better."
Aaron had bowled flat out on the second morning, for four overs almost consistently over 85mph. Dhoni walked up to him before the next, and asked him if he could bowl another. Both felt they were on to something. Moeen was on strike. He has had problems with the short ball. Aaron said Moeen being on strike didn't play any part in the decision, but he wanted to bowl that extra over.
The first ball was a bouncer at the throat, at around 88mph, and hit Moeen's glove even as he was halfway into the shot. The next ball was a peach, pitched up, swinging in late, past the inside edge of a high backlift, thudding into the pad, and then into the stumps. He would have had Moeen plumb lbw had he not hit the stumps.
Aaron was pretty satisfied with that dismissal without being smug about it. "In the previous match also, he had a problem against the short ball," Aaron said. "And even at Lord's. So I was obviously watching from the sidelines, and knew if I got a couple of good bouncers in, he might be in trouble. Good bouncer set-up followed by a good full ball is a good option."
A year and a half ago, bowling quick again was just a dream for Aaron. He was getting operated in London to relieve him of a fifth stress fracture. "When I got operated, one of my targets back then was to come on this tour," Aaron said. "I am really glad I am here, I am finally playing, and I have had a decent match so far."
There was no question he would hold back, though. "If I held myself back, I wouldn't be bowling quick at all," Aaron said. "I have had five stress fractures. If I am not holding myself back now, I don't see a reason to ever hold myself back."
There will soon be a longer day in the field, followed by a Test with a three-day break. That will provide a more accurate assessment of if Aaron can sustain his pace, and what he can do with it.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo