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Root, Moeen make hay on day one

Wisden India logo Wisden India 09-11-2016

A hundred in any form has assumed tremendous value in India, especially since Tuesday night. England seem to have learnt that lesson in quick time.

On a manic, unpredictable day in India and other parts of the world, Joe Root’s calm yet well-paced 124, along with an equally assured unbeaten 99 from Moeen Ali, got England’s five-Test tour off to a brilliant start on Wednesday (November 9), the first day of the first Test.

At the end of an old-fashioned day of ‘win the toss and pile on the runs’, England were in a strong position at 311 for 4, with Ben Stokes (19) giving Mooen good company.

It was almost an unfamiliar day for India’s bowlers, who haven’t had to bowl first on such a flat track for a long time.

No overseas batsman has scored a Test century in India since Michael Clarke in February 2013. That England already have one centurion and another within touching distance at the very beginning of their tour should please them. Root and Moeen came together when England were in a bit of bother at 102 for 3, but ensured they would end on top with a 179-run stand that came at a rate of 3.7.

The day was all about Root and Moeen, but it was made possible thanks to Alastair Cook’s correct call early in the day that resulted in Virat Kohli losing a toss for the first time in seven matches at home. The pitch was flat, and it was advantage England.

Full scorecard: India vs England, 1st Test

It was the first time in six Tests that India were fielding first at home, and it showed almost immediately. Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav got into good rhythms, but within six overs, India dropped three catches in the slip cordon. Cook was put down by Ajinkya Rahane off the third ball of the match and again in the next over by Kohli, while Haseeb Hameed was grassed by M Vijay a while later.

The drops didn’t cost India many runs but certainly did so in terms of momentum. Cook was streaky and beaten by the pacers regularly, but Hameed, the 19-year-old debutant, looked solid as England’s openers dominated the first hour.

However, the drinks break and incorrect judgments from umpire Chris Gaffaney and Cook broke the 47-run association. The England captain was given leg before to a turning ball from Ravindra Jadeja and walked back without reviewing the call, although replays later showed it would have missed leg-stump comfortably.

Photos: Cricketers — Then and now

Cricketers: Then and now

R Ashwin then threatened to capitalise with a couple of quick strikes. Seeing that Hameed was comfortable with him bowling over the stumps, Ashwin switched angles and deceived the teenager with drift to trap him leg before – a decision the batsman reviewed in vain. For all the talk of India’s inexperience with DRS, the first two dismissals were incorrect judgments by England.

Ben Duckett soon edged the offspinner to Rahane at slip for a low catch, reducing England to 102 for 3 after an eventful first session.

With a dodgy middle order and memories of the second-Test collapse in Bangladesh fresh, England were in a bit of bother. That’s when Root and Moeen took over.

Without a shot in anger, Root almost silently sneaked past his half-century off just 72 balls with typically busy batting. India’s spinners tempted him to hit against the turn with large, vacant spaces on one side of the field but Root gleefully accepted the invitation. He consistently drove Ashwin to the off-side boundaries, while Amit Mishra’s loopy deliveries were dispatched through mid-wicket with disdain. All this, between the numerous push-and-run singles and a dozen twos.

At the other end was Moeen, who too batted without much fuss. India tried to bounce him out early in his innings – as they did often during their tour of England in 2014 – but Moeen was untroubled on a pitch that didn’t have menacing bounce. As Root approached his ton, Moeen too crept close to his own half-century as the pair added 107 runs in a wicket-less second session.

Both batsmen went past their milestones after tea and began to open up gradually. Soon after paddle-sweeping Ashwin to bring up his first ton in Asia, Root stepped out to hit Jadeja for a massive straight six and followed it up with a reverse-sweep off Ashwin. Moeen too took on Ashwin, swiping him to the mid-wicket fence on a couple of occasions.

Root was threatening to show more of his stroke-play but a contentious caught and bowled call ended his stay in slightly bizarre manner. He punched a straight drive back to Umesh, who took the catch and then tossed it over his head in celebration even as it appeared as if he lost control through the process. In a tough decision, Rod Tucker, the third umpire, stayed with the on-field soft signal to rule Root out after a brilliant century.

Moeen slowed down towards the end and successfully saw through a reverse-swing examination along with Stokes.

India’s bowlers largely struggled on a pitch that didn’t have much for them. Ashwin didn’t look threatening after the initial spell and conceded more than 100 runs from 31 overs, Jadeja was harmless throughout, while Mishra bowled only nine expensive overs that cost 41 runs. It didn’t help that Shami struggled with his right hamstring through the latter part of one of the toughest bowling days for India, especially at home, in recent times.

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