Headingley, the locals will tell you, is very much a ‘look up’ ground. The pitch is fine on most days if you can survive the sessions when the clouds come rolling in. Indian skipper Virat Kohli would have known this no doubt but perhaps he had faith in his batsmen; faith that proved to be their undoing.
At the toss, Kohli looked down, saw a pitch, and said, “Looks firm and without grass and runs on the board will be crucial to set this Test match up,” while Joe Root looked up, “There’s a bit of cloud cover and it’s tacky, and it’ll get better and better for batting eventually. Quite happy to lose the toss.”
The cloud cover meant that England’s bowlers could come out swinging and James Anderson led the way with a brilliant first spell of 8-5-6-3 as India were knocked out for 78 — their third-lowest total in England and ninth-lowest overall.
Anderson led the way and Ollie Robinson (2/16), Craig Overton and Sam Curran (3/27) all did their part. But one can’t help but feel that while England executed their plans perfectly, India went about chasing disaster with the intent that Kohli demands for every other facet of the game
To illustrate the point, one needs to see how the Indian batsmen were dismissed.
KL Rahul (0 off 4 balls): The Indian opener’s greatest quality in the first two Tests was the manner in which he left the ball outside the off-stump. Despite having all the shots in the world, Rahul fell back on the humble leave and it gave him solid results. But on Wednesday, he erred. Anderson started off with an outswinger to Rohit Sharma, who got a single off it, but then followed it up with three inswingers to Rahul. The fifth ball was a straighter one, bowled from wide of the stumps and the batsman took the bait. He went for the big drive and only got an edge through to the keeper. Perhaps his runs in the earlier two matches made him feel he could play that shot but as the great Don Bradman used to say, ‘Play every ball as if you are on zero’.
Cheteshwar Pujara (1 off 9): The right-hander produced a vital knock in the second innings at Lord’s but he has otherwise been struggling for a while. If the ball isn’t doing much, he’s fine. But the moment, there is seam and swing, he is in trouble. Since 2019, Pujara has scored 1105 runs from 35 inns at an average of 32.50 batting at No.3 and those numbers point at a bigger problem. Anderson kept peppering the 33-year-old with inswingers and then went a little wide, angled the ball in and Pujara obliged with that little poke of his and edged it to the keeper.
Virat Kohli (7 off 17): The Indian skipper is now surely in the realm of poor form even if won’t acknowledge it. On the 2018 tour of England, Kohli scored 593 by showing immense amounts of patience. He would wait until the England bowlers would bowl in the areas that he wanted them to. But on this tour, he has fallen back into bad habits reminiscent of the ones that induced the horror of 2014 (134 runs at 13.40). He keeps falling to the outside-off-stump line and that is what happened in Leeds. The old masters will tell you that in seaming and swinging conditions, you put the cover drive away and play close to your body. Kohli failed to do that… again.
Ajinkya Rahane (18 off 54): For a while, Rahane looked good in the middle. He wasn’t scratchy as he can be, he seemed to be focussed on the task at hand and with Rohit Sharma, he built the biggest partnership of the Indian innings. But then as the morning session entered the last over, he inexplicably played at a delivery outside the off-stump. The only thing on his mind at that point should have been survival but that lazy waft wasted all the good work he had done upto that point.
Rishabh Pant (2 off 9): England have figured out the length that troubles Pant the most. It is neither full nor short and he keeps obliging by getting out to it, especially with the angle from over the wicket by a right-arm pacer. The lines have different but the in-between length has led to in-between shots from Pant. His dismissal shortly after the lunch break dragged India even deeper into the hole they had dug for themselves.
Rohit Sharma (19 off 105) won’t be part of this list because until the shot that got him out, he did everything right. He left the ball well, played close to the body and tried to avoid doing anything silly. His dismissal might have incidentally been brought about by a full toss he faced the ball before he got out. It was a low one and Rohit, stuck in a defensive mould, failed to put it away. Perhaps that played on his mind. The next ball was a short one and the mistimed pull shot only went as far as mid-on. For the third time on the tour, the Indian opener had fallen while playing a variation of the shot he loves.
England’s bowlers took full advantage of the conditions but 78 all out once again highlighted how inconsistent this Indian batting line-up has become in Tests and that should worry the team management. The manner in which the batsmen were dismissed shows not only a weakness in technique but also of the mind. Most of the dismissals came out of rash decision-making.
If India had lasted the first two sessions, they might have been able to feast in great batting conditions — as the England openers did to put on an unbroken century stand — but on this day, they lacked the required discipline. Perhaps, in their minds, they were still stuck at Lord’s, paying no heed to the fact that England and the game had moved on.