England bask in a rare golden day

Craig Overton, Ollie Robinson and James Anderson shared eight wickets between them
August 25, 2021

Days like this don't come along very often. Golden days when the edges are found, the catches are taken and the openers reply in such convincing style that it appears they are playing on a different wicket. As James Anderson, who conceded just six runs in India's completed first innings, put it, "It doesn't get much better than that." It was hard to disagree.

You surely have to go back to Trent Bridge in 2015 for anything close to such a dominant first day of a Test for England. Indeed, only three times in history has a team batting second ended the first day of a Test with a lead having not lost a wicket. The last time England managed it, on Boxing Day 2010 in Melbourne, was one of the all-time high points of the side's Test history.

"With both ball and bat we've displayed exactly what we wanted to do," Anderson said afterwards. "These days don't come around very often so you just have to be happy when they do.

"The only difference with Melbourne is that I was keen to bowl there and I wasn't today for some reason. I was trying to tempt Joe [Root] into batting if he won the toss. I think he was leaning towards a bowl but we'll never know."

It was Anderson who set up the performance. His new-ball spell, a masterclass in skilful swing bowling, should be studied by anyone who wants to follow in his footsteps. It was a reminder, too, that for all the talk of aggression and verbal intimidation, it is clear-headed, calmly applied skills that tend to win the day over macho posturing.

But it will have been equally pleasing for England to see their support bowlers weigh in with seven wickets between them. They are currently without at least six seamers who would have played ahead of some of those in action here, so to see Craig Overton, in particular, produce a sustained spell of seam bowling was reassuring. In that area, at least, England are well supplied.

Nothing, however, was as pleasing to English eyes as the openers scoring runs. This was, it must be noted, England's 22nd opening pair since the retirement of Sir Andrew Strauss in 2012. In the last five years, they had - before today - managed only one century stand between them. This, worth 120 so far, is already the highest in that period and was, remarkably enough, only their third in England and against India this century.

Both played well. But it was, perhaps, the performance of Haseeb Hameed which will give the most pleasure. It is no secret that he has had a tough time of things since his brief exposure to the international stage in 2016. He lost his place in the Lancashire side and was eventually released. But, under the benevolent eye of Peter Moores, at Nottinghamshire, he has recovered his confidence and form and here looked every inch the international batter those performances in India suggested he could be.

"I couldn't be happier for him," Anderson, a former teammate at Lancashire, said. "Since he's come back into the Test set-up you can see how much he's worked on his game, how he's become a better player. One thing he's always had is the right temperament for international cricket and we saw that today in bucket loads. He was calm, he was measured and he had a game plan which he executed brilliantly. To see him play that way is not something we're surprised by. Everyone is absolutely delighted for him.

"The way the two guys played towards the end of the day with the bat was outstanding and exactly what we've been asking for.

"When you bowl someone out for less than 100 you're never quite sure whether you've bowled well or if the wicket is not as good as you think it might be. To see both sides bat on it and see the way our openers went about their business just felt so calm. They were solid in defence, left well and put away the bad ball when they got one. I just thought it was brilliant Test match batting."

India, it must be acknowledged, had a poor day. While there is some mitigation to their batting - they came up against a great swing bowler in conditions which suited him - they might also reflect that they erred in their decision to bat first. And while some of those top-order batters were almost blameless, a couple of others (Rishabh Pant and Rohit Sharma in particular) were more than a little culpable. That lower order - despite the unlikely heroics of Lord's - is an accident waiting to happen, too.

It's harder to excuse their efforts in the field. From the moment in the first over when Jasprit Bumrah, attempting to return the ball back to the bowler, instead threw it over his head and to the boundary leaving Ishant Sharma to retrieve it, they were oddly close to shambolic. Sharma bowled - and fielded - as if the imposter who ran on with the team at Lord's (Jarvo, as he was known) had somehow found a way to further breech security protocols and actually found himself in the team, while there were also overthrows, mis-fields and a drop. Sometimes you wonder if Virat Kohli's high expressed emotion is really the best way to manage a side.

England, at least, had reflected on Lord's and concluded they had let the verbal confrontations cloud their minds for a while. They wanted to put that right here.

"There was a bit of chat about that," Anderson admitted. "The first three or four days at Lord's we played brilliantly and didn't get involved in too much discussion. After that maybe it did affect us a little bit. We have made a conscious effort of trying to focus on us, what we do well and trying to ignore anything else, like the outside noise or whatever else might be going on."

None of this means England's problems are over, of course. Or even that this game is won. We know that, in the most recent Test here, England prevailed despite having been bowled out for 67 in their first innings. We know, too, that England's attack is potent in such conditions. It's in conditions where lateral movement is tougher to gain where they have questions to answer.

But this was hugely encouraging. And after the disappointment of Lord's it set up the rest of this match - and perhaps the series - beautifully.

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