Bowled out for a shambolic 152 in their first innings, only a combination of good cricket and providential intervention by rain can save India from defeat in the fourth Test against England that got underway Thursday. The series is level at 1-1.
As was the forecast by the Met Office, rain struck soon after lunch Friday the second day of the match, when England had reached 237 for six and secured a lead of 85 runs in the first innings. Given their meagre total, India desperately needed to restrict the home side’s lead to less than 100.
To achieve this, they were required to remove Ian Bell and Joe Root, the two batsmen most likely to inflate England’s total. Warwickshire’s Bell played away from his body to an outswinger from Bhuvneshwar Kumar to be caught behind after a well constructed half century but Yorkshireman Root was still at the crease when the showers started at 2.15 p.m. local time.
India’s best chance lay in bowling out England Friday and making the most of what promises to be better batting conditions Saturday, which could be the sunniest of the five days of the match. Unless the predicted pattern changes, Sunday could experience a deluge and Monday could also be rain-affected.
This agency has been advocating from before the beginning of the current series that India must give consideration to Varun Aaron. England’s weakness against extra pace was laid threadbare in Australia last winter, when Mitchell Johnson tore into the English batsmen.
With Umesh Yadav — a success in England in the Champions Trophy last year — surprisingly excluded from the Test squad, Aaron represents the only genuine pace option for the tourists.
Mohammed Shami has noticeably lost velocity since the winter and Ishant Sharma has not quite been at his original pace for several years. The latter’s experience and hit-the-deck approach, though, would have stood India in good stead on this the hardest and bounciest pitch the Indians have encountered in England so far or are likely to this summer.
Unsurprisingly, Aaron’s faster deliveries have made the English batsmen hurry. Though he hasn’t figured in the 145 kph plus range, which he has clocked in the past, he consistently released the leather in excess of 140 kph, which has been enough to extract success.
On the first evening, he was too quick for Alastair Cook, who mishooked, and Gary Ballance, who was leg before wicket; and the same was true in the case of Moeen Ali, who was bowled, on the second day. The last mentioned was cleaned up when he stayed back apprehending a throat ball.
At the other end, Bhuvneshwar, the success of the tour, has been an excellent foil, swinging the ball both ways at medium pace and maintaining much needed accuracy.
Having operated without any luck in the previous Test at Southampton, Pankaj Singh deserved another opportunity and the tour selectors have correctly granted this to him. But asking him to bowl short has, arguably, not been good advice from his captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He has looked most likely to take a wicket when attacking the off-stump on a good length.