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England run riot against listless India

Wisden India logo Wisden India 10-11-2016

Five hundred is a much-feared number in India these days.

In the cricketing context, it’s a landmark no visiting team has managed for four years, since England scored 523 in the 2012 Kolkata Test. England bettered that performance on Thursday (November 10), posting 537 in their first innings of the first Test at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium, courtesy centuries from Moeen Ali (117) and Ben Stokes (128) to go with Joe Root’s 124 on the first day.

It was the first time since Sri Lanka in 2009 that three visiting batsmen scored centuries in the same innings in India.

India began their reply on a strong note and went into stumps at 63 for no loss, trailing by 474 after M Vijay and Gautam Gambhir successfully negotiating 23 overs.

Full scorecard: India vs England, 1st Test

England had capitalised on good batting conditions on the first day, and the second day was all about pressing home the advantage. In clinical fashion, they wore out an abject India, whose frustration showed in their forgettable bowling and terrible catching.

That India managed only nine maiden overs on the day and 18 in an innings of 159.3 overs says everything about their lack of control. Their spinners in particular were poor – R Ashwin returned figures of 2 for 167 from 46 overs while Amit Mishra conceded 98 from 23.3 overs. Ravindra Jadeja was marginally better, picking up 3 for 86 from 30 overs.

Photos: Cricketers — Then and now

Cricketers: Then and now

Over the five sessions that England batted, India also dropped five catches and missed a run-out opportunity. Flat pitch, ragged bowling and terrible fielding – England could not have asked for a warmer welcome to India after tough times in Bangladesh.

But none of that should take anything away from England, and Stokes in particular. It was vital for them to not let India back in the game, and Stokes ensured that through three 50-plus partnerships. He also found the perfect pace to do that, curbing his natural instinct to attack while still finding the boundary whenever needed. Day two was as much about runs as it was about time, and Stokes understood that.

Resuming on 311 for 4, England had their second centurion of the game immediately when Moeen reached his fourth Test ton off the third ball of the day. India took the second new ball straightaway in the morning but it only resulted in the ball travelling faster. Moeen seemed to have set himself up with three boundaries in an over off Umesh Yadav, but inexplicably left one from Mohammed Shami that came in with the angle from round the stumps to lose his off-stump.

It was a much-needed early breakthrough for India but any hopes of a fightback were quelled by what followed. Amid all the big knocks, Jonny Bairstow played a little gem with a 55-ball 46 during a 99-run association with Stokes.

That was also the time the pitch began to show signs of breaking up, but Bairstow and Stokes did not allow the spinners to capitalise. Interestingly, Bairstow took on Mishra and hit him for two massive sixers down the ground and three fours, while Stokes targeted Ashwin with repeated hits against the spin.

India’s spin pair couldn’t exert any sort of control and went at more than four runs an over. The only bowler who looked even remotely threatening then was Umesh, who looked to curb Stokes by bowling outside off with a packed off-side field.

The ploy almost worked and Yadav created a couple of chances, only to be let down by Wriddhiman Saha both times. Stokes was the beneficiary on both occasions, enjoying reprieves in consecutive overs when he was on 60 and 61. The drops were identical – Stokes slashing hard away from his body and edging, but Saha spilling fairly regular chances diving to his left.

As is the case usually on such days, Stokes found more fortune through the day, with a number of top-edges and miscues falling between fielders. He was also caught in the deep in the 140th over, but Vijay couldn’t avoid stamping on the boundary rope in the process.

Saha finally held on when Bairstow edged a wide one off Shami at the very end of a first session where England plundered 139 runs from 30 overs. Surprisingly, the one bowler who could probably have kept things quiet, Jadeja, bowled only one of those.

Jadeja struck twice soon after lunch, leaving Stokes in danger of being stranded, but he found good support from Zafar Ansari, who looked much better than his batting position of No. 10 suggested. Ansari’s calm presence also allowed Stokes to carry on and go past his fourth Test ton, which he got with a boundary through point off Jadeja.

The pair added 52 for the ninth wicket to take England past 500 and extend India’s misery. More importantly, they took as many as 137 balls to do that, adding to India’s pain with every ball, minute and run.

Stokes’s knock ended on a rather ironic note in a fashion should have happened much earlier, when Saha caught him off Yadav down the leg-side. By the time it eventually occurred, he had already put England well on top.

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