Match reports

India v England, 2016-17

Wisden's review of the first Test, India v England, 2016-17

Scyld Berry
At Rajkot, November 9-13, 2016. Drawn. Toss: England. Test debut: H. Hameed.
It was a far more satisfactory draw for the tourists than the hosts, to the extent that Trevor Bayliss said it was for sheer effort, the best of his tenure. Having noted England's debacle at Mirpur, India made the mistake of underestimating them: they had steamrollered the opposition in 12 of their previous 13 home Tests (the other was rain-affected) rising to No. 1 in the rankings on the back of Ashwin's own rise to the top of the bowling table. But England, at ease with being underdogs, responded in their inconsistent way: having been Bangladesh's first pukka Test victims, they controlled this match from the time Root took charge on the first afternoon. By the end, with Kohli holding on, India were imply grateful to survive.
England's three spinners, having been outbowled by Bangladesh, grew in stature to take 13 of India's 16 wickets, a feather in the cap of their consultant Saqlain Mushtaq (whose contract was extended until the end of the Third Test). Rashid was the most improved in accuracy, and outdid Ashwin - who conceded 230 runs in all - by seven wickets to three. He concentrated on his stock ball, and did not immediately fall back on variations when his leg-break was hit. Rashid said Saqlain had told him to focus on bowling at the pace at which his leg-break turned most; gone were the long hops of Chittagong and Mirpur.
But the most outstanding performance among the four British Asians - the first time so many had represented England in the Test team, reflecting almost exactly the proportion in all cricket in England and Wales - came not from Rashid, nor even Ali, who was Man of the Match. It came from Haseeb Hameed, who made one of the most dazzling debut ever for England - perhaps since 1896 and K. S. Ranjitsinhji, also from Gujarat, like Hameed's parents, and who had attended school in Rajkot.
The pitch, of black cotton soil, did not deteriorate nearly as quickly as expected, given the initial cracks. It had some live grass in the middle, which upset Kohli, who pronounced after the game: "That should not have been the case." And it enabled Woakes to bounce India's batsmen and score five direct hits - three in successive overs on Pujara. What stopped England pressing home their advantage was the lushness of the square and outfield - being a new stadium, it had an inbuilt sprinkler system - so the ball barely reversed, and a draw was always the likeliest result. India's 23rd Test venue was well appointed, ecofriendly and solar-powered - except for the floodlights - with splendid net facilities. But it was out of town, so the crowd never numbered more than a few thousand, even when schoolchildren were bussed in.
After Cook had won the toss - and Kohli had lost his first in eight at home - three England batsmen scored a century in a Test innings in India for only the second time, after Geoff Pullar, Ken Barrington and Ted Dexter at Kanpur in 1961-62. If Ali's was the most gorgeous, and Stokes's the most physical, Root's was the most valuable. In spite of the pitch's easiness, England - 102 for three at lunch - had been wobbling, and vulnerable to Ashwin, before Root was partnered by Ali in a stand of 179. Root played with a straight bat, driving felicitously, and did not sweep until he had reached 28, or reverse-sweep until he had made his 11th Test hundred - his first in Asia, and the first in India by a tourist since Australian captain Michael Clarke in February 2013. The fourth-wicket pair showed up India's fielding, which was often shoddy - five chances were dropped - with the great exception of Kohli, whose annoyance was clear. Root's dismissal was mildly controversial: some argued that Yadav, in his follow-through, did not have full control of the ball before throwing it up, then trying - and failing - to catch it again, but all three umpires were satisfied. Ali ended day one on 99, and next morning hit three fours in four balls off Yadav, before shouldering arms to Mohammed Shami.
A year before in the UAE, Stokes had been all at sea against spin. Now his defence was calm as he played himself in and hit the ball into the ground, before running India ragged with Bairstow in a stand of 99. Saha, moving wide to his left, dropped Stokes on 60 and 61 as Yadav built up full steam. Having scored a hundred in his second Test in Australia, Stokes now made one in his third in the subcontinent; all three of his previous Test innings against India, in England in 2014, had been ducks. England's eventual 537 was the highest total India had conceded at home since West Indies made 590 at Mumbai in November 2011, but India's opening pair saw out the second day.
Broad celebrated his 100th Test by pinning Gambhir early next morning as he fell across the crease, but then Vijay and Pujara put on 209 in 67 overs, both making hundreds. Vijay was more composed against Woakes's bouncers, swaying and keeping an eye on them, whereas Pujara turned his back. Vijay straight-drove England's spinners for four sixes, whereas Pujara, watched on his home ground by his family - including, for the first time at a game, his father and coach, Arvind - kept the ball on the ground. But England persevered in the dry, cloudless heat to take four wickets on the third day, two of them in the last four deliveries. At the close, India were still 218 behind After Kohli trod on his leg stump working Rashid to midwicket, India lacked a third century-maker, but Ashwin guided the tail until they came close to parity.
England's lead would have been 77 if Cook, at wide slip, had caught as simple a chance as there could be off Broad, offered by Shami. The 28 runs which India's last pair then added ate up at least half an hour, which England might have used profitably in the final session. Before that, however, came Hameed. He had tackled India's pace with maturity in his first innings, leaving the ball especially well: to his first delivery in Test cricket, short but barely outside off stump, he simply dropped his hands, instead of a nervous twitch to feel bat on ball. To his second, he played a they-shall-not-pass forward defensive, his back leg swivelling round so that everything was behind the ball. With Cook at his scratchiest at the start of his 55th Test as captain, breaking Mike Atherton's England record, he looked the debutant while Hameed looked the veteran. But Hameed's handling of pace was surpassed in his second innings by his handling of spin.
After Mirpur, England could have collapsed against Ashwin and Jadeja if their second innings had begun hesitantly. Hameed, with the game sense of a master, was having none of it. Jadeja took the new ball as the quickest, and therefore most dangerous, of India's spinners on a pitch that was basically slow, though with the odd delivery spitting. Hameed calmly took a step out and drove him for six over long-off. Vijay had straight-driven four sixes, so Hameed asked: why not? He followed up by cutting and cover-driving fours in an Ashwin over. "We knew he could play," said Cook of his tenth opening partner post Andrew Strauss. "He's an unbelievable player."
Hameed's counter-attack made the threat of India's three spinners evaporate. He throttled back to reach 62 by stumps on day four, and Cook grew in confidence. On the fifth morning, Hameed had a chance of beating Denis Compton as the youngest England batsman to make a Test century. But he may have been tired in his first five-day game, after hours at short leg in a hot helmet. In any event he did not play for three figures but for a declaration, lashing a return catch to Mishra on 82 - and settling for the highest Test score by an England teenager, beating Jack Crawford's 74 at Cape Town 111 years earlier.
Hameed's stand with Cook was worth 180, another record: England's best for the first wicket in India, surpassing 178 by Tim Robinson and Graeme Fowler at Madras in 1984-85. The effect of his innings was to give his side the psychological ascendancy: never, surely, had any England debutant opener so dominated quality spin. Had Cook not been batting - becoming the first England player to score 1,000 Test runs in India, and completing his 30th century - he might have declared shortly before the lead passed 300. As it was, England had a minimum of 49 overs to scare, or conceivably dismiss, India - which they turned into 53 by whisking through them and posting their subs round the boundary to throw the ball back in the last hour.
After Woakes had bounced out Gambhir, India regained their composure, until Rashid trapped Pujara just before tea - though the ball pitched outside leg. Rashid, having taken four wickets first time round, was England's likeliest match-winner, but he was underused. Even though his leg-break was turning ever more sharply - and one ball from Ansari bounced head high - Rashid had only one close catcher on the off side. Ali, meanwhile, thwarted by the fact that India had six right-handers in their top seven, did not bowl round the wicket enough. Spinning out the opposition on the last afternoon had been the speciality of Ray Illingworth a generation or two before, and - once Saha was sixth out with what proved to be ten overs left - he might have finished the job. But spin has assumed such a low profile in county cricket that England did not know how to win.
Man of the Match: M. M. Ali.