Dom Sibley and Joe Root felt more like at home in a hot Chennai as they further turned up the heat than India who seemingly missed being in Australia as they suffered greatly on a flat deck. English openers set the tone for the day and after that, the team led by Root swept their way to success.
The odds were stacked up against the opening pair of Dom Sibley and Rory Burns when they walked out to bat on day one of the Chepauk Test. The last 12 Tests in India had yielded 249 runs for visiting openers with an average of 10.3, highest stand of 32 and the last fifty partnership coming as long back as March 2017. Add to that the fact that England’s first wicket had added 10, 3, 4, and 17 in the Sri Lanka series. It was considered as one of England’s weakness.
But the pair of Burns and Sibley put up a patience masterclass on a flat wicket. They were solid in their defense early on against a seasoned Ishant Sharma and a magnificent Jasprit Bumrah. As per CricViz, England’s false shot percentage in the first ten overs was 7%, the lowest of a match since February 2009. But the trial by spin awaited them. There as well, they showcased the most important thing against spinners – decisive footwork. You don’t want to be caught in between or picking the lengths poorly.
The English openers were able to play off the back foot well and that helped them open up many areas to score for them. As a result, they put up a good 63-run-opening-stand. Rory Burns was coming off after missing the Sri Lanka Tests, but it didn’t have even an iota of impact as he batted as solidly as ever. Sibley, who was horrible in the first three innings in Sri Lanka, also took from where he had left after a gritty display in the second innings of the last Test and combined in a great start for the visitors.
Root-ed England sweeping their way to success
Statistically, in the class of Ken Barrington, Geoff Boycott and Wally Hammond, Joe Root is one of greatest players of spin in English history that kick-started as long back as 1877. One of the hallmarks of Root’s success in Sri Lanka was unleashing different types of sweeps as a bread and butter shot. As per CricViz, the English skipper who made 426 runs in two Tests in Sri Lanka, had played 53 and 52 sweeps in first and second Test respectively, most sweep shots since data has been recorded.
Not for nothing, it’s said that how a captain does, it rubs on the team. Today, we saw that the English team tried to model their game against spin using the Root way in a subtle manner if not more and tried sweeping more than we saw they did in Sri Lanka. Playing sweeps is one of the most common ways of countering turn and low bounce. Not only bowlers create doubts in the head of batsmen when they alter lengths but batsmen too, when they play sweeps or come down the track, they play with the head of spinners. There were two consecutive fours hit by Root of short balls in the 55th over that too off R Ashwin. He’s a relentless bowler. But that’s what Root had done to him having played a lot of sweeps.
Rory Burns had also played a sweep shot though it was a risky shot against Ashwin but it was a clear show that the team was more than willing to follow in the footsteps of Root. Also, Dom Sibley was great in terms of using his feet against spin and also employing sweeps sometimes, if not many, exhibiting he can play the cross-batted shots and didn’t let bowlers get stuck on a line and length.
An out planned, tired Indian team not up for the challenge
Indian team on the first day of the Chepauk Test was like a team or a group that turns up after a big success party to work. It can be complacency but given what transpired in Australia, India was not taking England lightly. So what went wrong? Firstly, a batting side won’t get a better and flatter pitch to start a series than this. There was nothing for pacers or spinners and the heat only made it tougher for India as they looked out of depth and were going through motion once Root and Sibley started batting at their best.
Dom Sibley has an unorthodox technique, and plays with a close face and gives an idea that he is the last one to spare anything straight or on the middle-leg-stump line. Now, on a flat pitch, India went for control rather than attack like in Australia. They kept bowling straight and on leg-stump to the English opener and he kept on cashing in, flicking the ball with ease. At one point, almost half of his runs had come off the flick shot with his control in the 90s. India missed a trick, especially spinners by not trying to make him drive the ball and their plan played to his strengths.
For Joe Root, he simply put up a masterclass. But were India expecting any less after he was coming off century in each of the last two Tests with a prolific record in Asia? So, the question is why didn’t India continue to persist with their plans against him once he got on a roll? Lack of conviction? Pretty much. Also were they short on plan B or C? Perhaps. Root toyed with Indian bowlers with impunity. And as the third-wicket partnership grew, India’s fielding started getting poorer, shoulders started falling down, the body language was anything but a side believing it can take wickets or was even in the game fighting.