England had another great day in the opening Test as they continued to dominate India in all departments of the game. Despite Sundar's wonderful 85*, England ended India's innings on 337 and then were quite proactive to score 178 on a tricky surface to leave the hosts with a record chase of 420.
Washington Sundar's unflappable temperament
Washington Sundar is an anomaly. Someone with as little experience as the left-hander in first-class cricket has no right to show so much maturity, compactness, a solid judgement of off-stump, ability to soak in pressure, hit elegant shots and all that at the age of 21, which is crazy, given how much he can develop in times to come. When he bats, one thing that is apparent is he can bat up the order than seven.
One thing in common in the first three Test innings of Washington has been the pressure situations that he has been subjected to and how beautifully he has conquered them to prove a point. Pretty much like the Gabba Test, Washington arrived at the crease, when India needed a solid performance from him. They were 192 for 5 in response to England's massive 578. He started with some magnificent shots. But as soon as Rishabh Pant got out, he took the role of the senior man and batted with a lot of application to add 80 runs for the seventh wicket with Ashwin.
He showcased discipline that was missing with most of the Indian batsmen, who had endured soft dismissals, all this in his second Test and only third innings. His judgement of the off-stump stood out whenever the pacers tried to test his technique. And against spin, he's master at work as such is the ease with which he milks the slower bowlers. He had endured a horrible time with the ball, but like a true all-rounder, he left behind a major impact with the willow in hand and if not for his well-made 85, India wouldn't have reached 337 from 225 for 6 given India's poor tail. India have found a solid talent in the all-rounder to invest in for future.
England's clinical approach
Swat-sweeping, slog-sweeping, switch-hitting, reverse-sweeps, flicks, England put an exhibition on a tricky fourth-day pitch as India opened the bowling with R Ashwin and Shahbaz Nadeem and even got the breakthrough on the first delivery of the English innings. It was as if the World Champion ODI team had turned up than the Test side as such was the audacity and attacking intent with which England batsmen countered Indian bowlers led by their skipper Joe Root who made a 32-ball-40.
The pitch is such now that any ball can have your name written on it. The dismissals of Joe Root and Daniel Lawrence showed how difficult it is to bat on this wicket with invariable bounce on offer for pacers while spinners were getting good turn and bounce off the deck. There is a good length area too which explodes when the ball hits the deck there, all of which rings the alarm for batsmen.
England, who were well ahead in-game with a big lead of 241, pretty well knew all they needed to do was to get to 150-175 and not 70-80 total to put India on to the back foot, which they duly did. They were disdainful on Nadeem as he wasn't allowed to settle in again and the tourists didn't even let Ashwin take a breather as Root again put up a sweep masterclass on display even though the offie was among wickets unexpectedly. Even in terms of bowling, after getting R Ashwin out, England didn't let Washington get away and took last three wickets for just 32 runs, which was worth gold given how complex it was supposed to bat in their second innings given the threat Indian bowlers possessed on a fourth day Chepauk wicket.
Same old soft 'SG' ball and Kohli's tactics
One of the overlooked things in this Test has been the use of a modified SG ball between India and England. There have been some complaints from senior Indian players in the past about the ball turning soft quite early with R Ashwin even stating that "The SG ball used to be top-notch, and you could bowl with it even after the 70th or 80th over. The seam used to be standing up strong and straight. But it is not the same anymore."
In this Test SG ball with a pronounced seam, harder core and with a darker shade of red is being used but to no avail. The ball was expected to retain the hardness till 60th over but today, it went soft from the 11th over itself, maybe because of the dry nature of the Chepauk deck or reasons best known to the ball manufactures. Bowling in India has been a nightmare in comparison to bowling with the Dukes, or even the Kookaburra ball and it doesn't seem to be changing any soon.
Virat Kohli was good with his captaincy today in terms of tactics and aggression but not starting with the Jasprit Bumrah who is tailor-made for exploiting the fourth-day Chepauk surface with invariable bounce was hard to comprehend even if we weigh up what Nadeem offered, extra bounce, and he returned sans a wicket, giving 23 runs in six overs. Kohli didn't bring Bumrah till the 22nd over, who got the danger Root early and troubled English batsmen a lot. Also, not giving the ball to Ashwin post-tea session early was surprising given the offie had already taken three wickets and looked the most dangerous alongside Bumrah. Also, Root was constantly targeting the vacant mid-wicket region by sweeping the bowlers, with Kohli slow to fill in the gap.
India have overstepped the line too often in this Test. While England only bowled one no-ball in their innings, India delivered 20 no-balls in the first innings and 7 in the second, to end up with 27 no-balls. Also, India were quite slow in their over-rate today, which has been the case earlier too in the game and can prove deferential as World Test Championship points are docked for slow over-rate.