How did India's bowlers manage to avoid the blistering assault suffered by New Zealand during England's 3-0 whitewash earlier this month? Thanks to their battery of 140kph/87mph-plus seamers, as well as a return to the same bowling plans that had delivered a 2-1 series lead in the first four Tests of the Pataudi Trophy last summer. That was the assessment of Mohammed Siraj
, India's leading wicket-taker in the match so far, whose four victims in England's first innings included the prized scalp of Joe Root on Saturday.
Using his ability to kick the ball off a good length at high speeds, Siraj forced an edge off Root on the second day to remove him for 31, then returned on Sunday afternoon to pick off England's final three wickets in the space of his final four overs. Earlier, England's captain Ben Stokes had paid the price for what Kumar Sangakkara on air described as "reckless batting" when he holed out to mid-off for 25, as India closed out an imposing lead of 132.
They were made to work for their dominant position, however, with Jonny Bairstow
once again blazing his way to a century, his third in successive Tests this summer. Siraj, however, said that the Indian bowlers had remained unruffled during his onslaught.
"As bowlers, we had to just keep patience," Siraj said at the close of play. "Bairstow is in form and he has been continuously playing attacking batting since the New Zealand series. So we were aware his confidence was high. Our simple plan was to stick to our basics and, no matter what he did for us, it was a matter of one ball - be it an inswinger or seaming in off the pitch."
In his spell immediately after lunch, Jasprit Bumrah - India's stand-in captain - pegged Bairstow back with a mix of conventional Test bowling and some white-ball variations. He kept Bairstow rooted in his crease with good use of the yorker, and challenged him with slower balls alongside quicker deliveries pitched on a good length outside off stump. With the pressure cranked up, Bairstow duly nicked the first ball he faced when Shami entered the attack in Bumrah's place, and departed for 106.
"When we saw the New Zealand series, we realised that our every bowler is 140-plus and they [New Zealand bowlers] didn't have that," Siraj said. "We had that ability and also we also had played against England last year. So that was our plus point, as [we] were aware of their weak points and that is why we got the success.
"In the first innings, the pitch was helpful to begin with, but after that it became flatter subsequently. So our only plan was to hit consistently in one area. Also, the more effort balls we could deliver, then it would be effective for the bowlers. If we took it easy, then we would end up leaking runs."
In successive Tests against New Zealand, the attacking approach of England's batters helped them chase down three imposing 270-plus targets with ease. There's little doubt that Stokes' men will attempt the same when their latest fourth innings gets underway, probably sometime on Monday afternoon. Siraj, however, was undaunted, adding that he believes this pitch could favour India's bowlers.
"The ball is now keeping low," he said, "so in the second innings it will definitely help us."