Even before action began on day two in Chennai, there was an interesting moment. “The pitch foxed us all. Expected it to assist spinners, but it was too, too slow on day one,” said India bowling coach Bharat Arun just before play was set to begin on day two of the first Test against England.
Perhaps it foxed England too, but the visitors got through the day, did all the right things and then piled on the agony on day two to reach 555/8. Root was brilliant for his 218, Stokes was adventurous and the others did enough to keep India out on the field for another tiring day.
Watch highlights: Joe Root, Ben Stokes power visitors to 555/8 as England dominate first Test
Only for a brief period at the start of the day and then in the final session when England went from 454/4 to 555/8, did it look like India clawed their way back into the match a little. But England’s approach did not change despite the wickets. They just seemed to want to occupy the crease for as long as possible.
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Their approach was perhaps decided by experience. England made 477 in the first innings the last time they played India in Chennai in 2016. India still went on to win easily by an innings and 75 runs after a mammoth batting effort. The pitch deteriorated and England were bowled out for 207 in their second innings with Ravindra Jadeja claiming 7/48. England had also lost the previous match by an innings after winning the toss and posting 400.
Clearly, Root and Co didn’t want a repeat of that happening. So they kept batting and they kept waiting for a sign; a sign that would tell them that the pitch has started to deteriorate.
There were a few. But perhaps too few. A couple of deliveries from Shahbaz Nadeem pitched into the rough wide outside the left-hander’s off-stump — they bounced, they turned and they surprised the batsman. There was a puff of dust too.
Instead of bothering England, those were the deliveries that prompted Stokes to go on the attack. He decided he wasn’t just going to hang around but instead move the game along at a good rate and while he was in the middle, India were sent on a leather hunt.
“I’m making sure I’m either getting right down the wicket or getting right back,” said Stokes at the end of the day. “Today, initially, it was a typical subcontinent wicket, but Nadeem got a couple to kick out of the rough, and I said to myself, I’d rather get caught deep square taking the attack to him rather than get caught short leg being defensive, and Joey said alright.”
Stokes (82 off 118 balls) and Root put on 124 off 221 balls and the partnership put India completely on the back foot. A few early wickets in the morning session would have put a spring in the stride of the home team but the shoulders were clearly drooping by the time the first session ended.
Even after Stokes was dismissed, caught in the deep off Shahbaz Nadeem, Root carried on in an unhurried fashion, ready to respect the bowling and looking very comfortable in the middle. The England skipper also never seemed to force the pace and that, in essence, seemed to make his innings so special. The runs came easily too as he seemed to find the gaps on demand.
“Joe Root makes me feel rubbish – that’s pretty much where he’s at, at the moment,” said Stokes. “He’s an amazing player. I’m not too sure we’ve had an England player play spin so well.”
But all along, Root was playing to a plan. A plan that he has spoken about at the end of day one, when he highlighted how England wanted to score 600-700 and bat as long as possible.
Root had said: “So, if we can bat the whole of [day two] and maybe into day three then things could speed up quite quickly for us and you never know what can happen from that point onwards.”
Late in the day, there was some reverse swing for the Indian pacers but it was nothing that the batsmen couldn’t handle. At this point, England will feel that they have got enough runs on board to make sure they can’t lose the match but whether they can push for a win or not will depend on whether their waiting game bears fruit.
And come day three, maybe we’ll have a more definite answer to that question.