He was smoked for a six off the first delivery he bowled in Test cricket on the opening day. He was hit for 14 off three deliveries at the very end of the second day. For his first three days in Test cricket, Tom Hartely hardly looked the part in Hyderabad.
But come Day 4, the Lancashire-born spinner stood up to leave India reeling and to take the visitors to what their captain Ben Stokes described as "100% our greatest triumph."
Having set India a target of 231 to win the first test, Hartley ran through the hosts’ batting order with seven wickets as England secured a 28-run victory in just four days. The 24-year-old, in fact, took the first four wickets to fall in the fourth innings and ensured that the Indians were never really in hunt to chase down the total.
“Tom came into the squad for the first time, he's heard a lot and had a lot of confidence,” Stokes said of Hartley in the post-match presentation. “I was willing to give him longer spells regardless of what happened [in first innings] because I knew I had to turn back to him at some point.”
“Whether that was the reason he got seven wickets and won us the game, who knows?” the skipper added.
The first of the left-arm spinner’s victim on the afternoon was Yashasvi Jaiswal – the batter, who had welcomed him to Test cricket with a six three days ago. Just as the southpaw charged down the wicket, Hartley smartly pulled his length back, forcing the Mumbai batter to turn it to the on-side, only for Ollie Pope to hang on to a good catch at forward short leg.
Shubman Gill followed two balls later as he pushed at a flighted delivery on the off-stump with hard hands to Pope, who once again grabbed the opportunity with both hands at silly mid-off, to hand Hartley his second wicket.
Captain Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul added 21 runs for the third wicket in quick succession, but Hartley once again had the final laugh as he trapped the former leg before wicket for 39.
Axar Patel, who was promoted up the order, ensured that India did not lose any more wickets in the second session as he added 32-runs with Rahul in 11 overs until tea.
The joy for India was, however, short-lived and it took Hartley just four deliveries post the break to strike back. Patel – who had smashed him for 14 runs off three deliveries on Day 2, was foxed into a drive with a flighted delivery before the ball dipped and the batter could only offer a tame return catch.
Hartely’s spell on either side of tea put England on the driver’s seat before they pounced on with the wickets of Rahul, Ravindra Jadeja, and Shreyas Iyer in quick succession. Just minutes into the third session on Sunday, India slipped from 95/3 to 119/7.
As all-rounder Ravichandran Ashwin (28) and wicketkeeper KS Bharat (28) delayed the inevitable, playing out 21.4 overs for their 57-run eighth wicket stand, Stokes once again summoned Hartley.
The debutant did not disappoint, as he spun one past Bharat's bat to take the off-stump down. Ashwin followed an over later – stumped after attempting an ugly hoick across the line.
Though India's final pair – Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj, did show some resistance, it was Hartley who snapped out the latter fittingly to round off a memorable win after conceding a 190-run first innings lead.
Earlier in the day, England added 104 runs in the opening session before they were bowled out for 420. Hartley, who scored 39 before being cleaned up by Ashwin, added a crucial 80-run stand with Pope for the eighth wicket.
Indian bubble Poped
The result at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium marked India’s first-ever loss after gaining more than a 100-run lead in the first innings in a home Test match. All of it was largely down to one man – Ollie Pope.
Playing his first match in seven months, due to a shoulder injury, Pope cracked a stunning 196 off 278 deliveries in the third innings to hand England a shot at the match, after a horrid outing in the first.
The long injury lay-off gave Pope some extra time to prepare, which was used to change his technique specifically for this series.
The 26-year-old employed sweeps and reverse sweeps to good effect to unsettle the Indian spin trioka. He was quick to judge lengths and press forward or go on to the backfoot as he negated the pitch rather easily in what was a rather extraordinary innings, when none of the other batters in the match touched the 90-run mark.
In fact, the second highest score in the English innings was opener Ben Duckett’s 47.
Pope, who averaged 19.2 in India prior to this match, also took advantage of some ordinary display by the Indians in the field. The Surrey batter was dropped off Jadeja by Patel when batting on 110 late in Day 3.
He was also assisted by some questionable tactics from Sharma with defensive field sets taking precedence early on Day 4. This allowed Pope, Rehan Ahmed, and later Hartely to keep the scoreboard ticking without much pressure.
“100% my best knock,” said Pope. “To come here to India, toughest place as a better and put in a winning performance, it's head and shoulders above the rest.”
“I was focused on covering the inside edge. I knew that was the real danger ball. I maintained that mindset and really wanted to be positive with my sweep and reverse sweep,” he added.
The Indian batters, on the other hand, were guilty of allowing the visiting spinners dictate the terms. The sweep shots were largely missing from their arsenal in the fourth innings and so was pro-active footwork.
Rahul Dravid’s team has now gone three home Tests in a row without a win for the first time since 2012. This is a team which has been virtually unbeatable in their own backyard over the past decade.
There is surely a lot to ponder about for the team ahead of the second Test in Visakhapatnam. With Virat Kohli’s unavailability, there will be more pressure on Gill and Iyer to put up runs on the board.
With India also fretting over Jadeja possibly injuring his hamstring, England could well sense a historic win with their Bazball approach in the coming Tests.