At the end of all the build-up, the first day-night Test featuring India and Bangladesh failed to be a keenly-contested match as the Indian pacers did not allow their opponents to even have a sighter of the pink ball under the lights.
After choosing to bat first, Ishant Sharma and Co skittled out Bangladesh for a meager 106 before Virat Kohli put the hosts in the lead on day one of the second Test on Friday.
Ishant returned figures of 5/22 in India’s pink-ball debut to bowl out the tourists in the second session after just 30.3 overs. He was ably supported by fellow quicks Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami, who shared the remaining five wickets between them.
India then reached 174/3 at stumps, leading by 68 runs. Kohli, on 59, and Ajinkya Rahane, on 23, were at the crease as another shortened Test match loomed on the horizon.
Here are the talking points from day one of the historic pink-ball Test:
After a few overs of hide and seek, the exaggerated swing that was promised with this pink ball was starting to show. At times it was like the first session of a Test at Headingley or Lord’s: the ball was moving, and doing so late.
But Wriddhiman Saha, who had talked about how sighting the pink ball will be a challenge, was at his absolute best with the gloves on. The high point of the action on day one was a tough competition between two world-class catches by Rohit Sharma and Saha.
Rohit, at second slip, took a blinder by diving to his right, but it was Saha’s take to dismiss Mahmudullah that was the tougher, more technical of the two chances. The way Saha dived –with his glove and elbow never hitting the ground hard – and took the catch at the lowest point of its trajectory, a millisecond before it would not have been a legal catch, made his effort all the more special.
In fact, at one point, you could hear the crowd gasping in awe when a replay was being shown on the giant screen in the stadium. It was not a wicket or anything: it was just Saha diving down the leg side, full stretch, extending his left glove to save four byes. It was a kind of a performance by him behind the stumps that put any doubt over who the best Indian wicketkeeper, technique-wise, is to rest.
The scorecard showed eight byes by the end of India’s bowling effort. “If Saha cannot stop it, it was not meant to be stopped,” said Harsha Bhogle on air. That was, without exaggeration, how good a show Saha put on for his home fans.
Ishant Sharma and a wonderful second wind
It is amazing that Ishant Sharma is still only 31 years old, really. It feels like he has been around forever in Indian cricket. But the man who started off as a mercurial talent in Australia has taken a long, often arduous, route to where he is now: playing his 96th Test and enjoying a late surge in his career. And 12 years after taking a five-for in his first ever Test match at home, he ended the wait in India’s first-ever day-night Test.
Ishant’s ability to read the conditions and adjust lengths is one of the many reasons he has improved drastically as a bowler in the last couple of years and it was on full view on Friday. After an early burst that saw the new pink ball not do much in the air or off the pitch, it was Ishant who provided the first breakthrough that kickstarted the Bangladesh procession.
“I’m enjoying my cricket right now,” he said after the match. “Initially, I used to take more pressure on my performance, to take wickets and beat batsmen. Now I don’t think much. Obviously, I’ve got experience now so I adjust my length according to the conditions quickly.”
The best example of this almost care-free approach from Ishant was seen in the post-match chat with Harsha Bhogle in Indore alongside his partners in crime (Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami), that was widely appreciated. The senior-most of the trio, Ishant asked Shami what was his secret to taking five-fors by bowling pretty much the same lengths as he does; but where Ishant beats the bat, Shami gets the wickets.
Well, it did not take long for the roles to reverse. In the second session, Shami set the lower-order batsmen up with a barrage of short balls that often beat the bat, while Ishant got the rewards from the other end with his new weapon: the ball that moves away from the right-hander.
And that summed up the brilliant chemistry of this pace bowing unit, on and off the pitch.
Concussion and commentary
While most of the proceedings from Friday would have tickled many an Indian fan pink, there was some serious regressive remarks made on air by the commentators. During the course of their shortlived innings, Bangladesh lost two players to concussion and were forced to field substitutes under the new ruling of ICC. Mehidy Hasan and Taijul Islam were told before the match by their captain that their services wouldn’t be needed at Eden Gardens, and yet, by the end of the day both of are part of the XI.
Now there is perhaps a debate to be had about the specifics of this like-for-like substitute rule brought in by ICC. Yes, by all means. But the sheer insensitivity with which Murali Kartik and Sunil Gavaskar approached this topic on air was galling, to put it mildly.
Kartik suggested that players are now starting to take advantage of the rule by walking off at the first sign of trouble. Did Steve Smith do that when hit by a bouncer at Lord’s? Did Nayeem Hasan do that on Friday at Eden Gardens? And why would Liton Das, arguably the best batsman on show for Bangladesh, while playing a superb little innings, want to leave the match using this rule?
And over to Gavaskar later, who (not for the first time, mind you) compared getting hit on the head to breaking an arm or a leg, or pulling a hamstring. If there are no subs for the latter scenarios, why have for the former. Kartik had toed the same line earlier as well.
The reason? Because that’s how cricket always used to be played.
Two former international cricketers simply refused to see the need for a ruling over concussion (after what happened to Phil Hughes) and why the game needs to treat head injuries with more caution than a muscle-pull.
Sourav Ganguly said in his short speech at the end of the night, “what we saw today at Eden Gardens was a huge step forward for Test cricket.” It is hard to argue with him there. But if he were listening to the commentary, a penny for his thoughts on how felt about cricket progressing, off the field. On a day (and night) that Indian cricket did take a leap of faith, progressing a few steps forward, it is unfortunate that the men calling the game took it a few steps backward.