England produced a very creditable display to earn a draw in the first match of the test series against India in Rajkot. England headed into the series as severe underdogs with many fans and pundits alike predicting a 5-0 whitewash, thus this result represents a major sign of encouragement heading forward.
As it happened it was England who looked the far more likely to secure victory on the final day as India abandoned all thoughts of chasing an improbable target of 310 from 49 overs and clung on to draw. At one point in particular India’s position looked especially precarious at 71-4 with still 25 overs remaining however Skipper Virat Kohli and Ravichandran Ashwin steadied the ship for the hosts.
England were certainly aided by the batter-friendly pitch which they took full advantage of in the first innings after crucially winning the toss and electing to bat. Haseeb Hameed looked assured on debut before falling for 31 as England reached 103-3 at lunch. It was perhaps a case of what might have been in the first session for India as they dropped a number of relatively simple chances. From then on England were imperious. Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Ben stokes all compiled excellent centuries to propel England to a daunting total of 537 that placed severe pressure on the heavily fancied hosts.
However there is a reason why India have won 11 of their past 12 tests at home and this was apparent in the quality of their batting. Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay both hit centuries in a mammoth partnership of 209. Despite this, England remained disciplined in their bowling throughout and this persistence was rewarded as they picked up two late wickets. Honours were thus fairly even at the end of day 3 with India closing on 319-4.
England continued their excellent bowling display on day 4 taking wickets at regular intervals never allowing India to establish any real momentum. Ashwin however compiled an impressive 70 to propel India to 488, 49 runs behind England’s total. Advil Rashid was undoubtedly the pick of England’s bowlers, taking 4-114.
Heading into England’s second innings there was certainly a degree pressure upon the tourists as the pitch had started to turn. Yet England’s opening pair arrested any such fears as they battled with relative ease until the close, reaching 114-0. Debutant Hameed showed maturity well beyond his years in turn becoming the third youngest player to hit a half-century for England. On day 5 Alistair Cook went on to compile his 30th test century, whilst Hameed fell for 82 as England declared on 260-3.
Whereas India’s spinners struggled to extract anything from a largely placid surface, Rashid and co looked far more threatening as they gave the hosts a huge scare. Rashid returned with figures of 7-178 in the match which perhaps represents his best performance in an England shirt.
Heading to Visakhapatnam for the 2nd match of the series, the pitch will certainly present a far greater challenge for England’s batsmen. However upon the basis of this display, both in terms of the batting and bowling, the tourists have due cause for optimism and should no longer be seen as such underdogs.
Photo Credit: AP