England backed their bowlers to finish India off on day five of the first Test in Chennai, after opting not to buy extra time in the game with a declaration.
Joe Root decided not to intervene in his side’s second innings, allowing them to bat into the final hour and pile up a lead of 419 – leaving a world record chase in their wake – in a bid to take an unlikely India win out of the
Jack Leach’s dismissal of Rohit Sharma gave the tourists a further shot in the arm and nine further breakthroughs are needed in the final three sessions to cap what would be a memorable away success. India closed on 39 for one, with 90 overs of battle left.
Root had earlier declined to enforce the follow-on despite dismissing the hosts for 337, a deficit of 241 runs, preferring to give his bowlers a rest and stretch the advantage.
He went on to top-score with 40 as his side were bowled out for 178, setting up a final equation that England would have only dreamed of when they touched down.
Root digs in despite social media criticism
England’s mindset is let’s not lose this test match – rather than, what’s the best way to win this test match and how many overs could we need ! This batting on decision is now putting a lot of pressure on England’s bowlers and particularly their spinners !
— Shane Warne (@ShaneWarne) February 8, 2021
With a lead of 360 at tea and Jos Buttler at the crease, the expectation was England would hurry to a declaration to give themselves as much time as possible to bowl India out. It did not work out like that, with the tourists perhaps wary of giving India a sniff with a sub-400 chase. While Michael Vaughan and, unsurprisingly, Shane Warne were critical, India’s confidence is sky high given their series win in Australia last month. Root has also been burned before in a declaration after the West Indies overhauled 322 at Headingley in 2017, while three years earlier he was labelled ‘Craptain’ on Yorkshire duty when Middlesex chased down 471.
Ishant backs “fearless” India
Sir Alastair Cook, largely remembered as a conservative captain, thought Root would have given his bowlers more than the 103 overs they have been given. But while England’s thoughts are on the nine remaining Indian wickets, the hosts have not discounted their own chances. Ishant Sharma told Channel 4: “If we get a good start then I’m sure we can chase this down because we have a batting line-up who are very fearless. We are very positive about this, so it’s about the start.”
India’s 300 club
Anil Kumble - 619
Kapil Dev - 434
Harbhajan Singh - 417
Ravichandran Ashwin - 382
Zaheer Khan - 311
Ishant Sharma - 300
Veteran seamer Ishant was put up for media duties after becoming just the sixth Indian bowler to reach 300 scalps in Test cricket when he had Dan Lawrence lbw in the afternoon session. He joins former all-rounder Kapil Dev and left-armer Zaheer Khan as the only non-spinners on the list. And perhaps emphasising a fast bowler’s lot on the subcontinent, Ishant has become the slowest to reach the milestone after 98 Tests. Daniel Vettori was the previous holder of that dubious record, as he reached the landmark in his 94th Test.
India’s bowlers stepping over the mark
The klaxon that has sounded to alert umpires Anil Chaudhary and Nitin Menon about front-foot no-balls has polarised opinion among those following on television and radio. The device has been worked overtime whenever the hosts have been in the field, with India’s bowlers conceding an eye-watering 27 extras just through over-stepping. And, extraordinarily, it is the spinners who were most culpable in England’s second innings, with all but one coming from Ravichandran Ashwin and Shahbaz Nadeem, who were each red-flagged on three occasions.