Much like the opening day of this fifth Test, yesterday was a day for the batsmen. The pitch, dried earlier in the week after a cyclone with trays of hot coals, is slow, lowish and although it is offering spin it is only doing so relatively slowly. Therefore if batsmen get set they can enjoy a more comfortable existence than in previous matches.
Late runs have been a feature for both sides and again it happened as debutant Liam Dawson and Adil Rashid secured a good first innings total for England with relative ease. They came together with England tottering at 321-7, three wickets haven fallen early in the day, but with sensible batting they stopped India becoming dominant and then pushed England to 477. They are both good batsmen and show the great depth England enjoys in the lower order, but it is also a concern for England as they have to take 20 wickets to win the match.
The ease with which they played was continued by India in the final session as they progressed to 60-0 with few alarms. Parthiv Patel replaced the injured Murali Vijay as opener after Vijay had tumbled awkwardly when fielding but despite it offering England a hope for an early breakthrough as Patel had just kept wicket for 157 overs, it came to nothing. This is ominous for England and if India grind out a score in excess of 400 or more, and on current form they should, then the best England could hope for is a draw. The danger though is England get scuttled in their second innings and India win again.
A draw would be a decent effort but with the series gone it would be good for morale if the team went out with bit more of a bang. It will need some excellent bowling, catching and probably a bit more imaginative captaincy by Alastair Cook. He has a fantastic personal record in India and led the side to a series victory here in 2012 but he has appeared a little listless all winter. England have created opportunities but have lacked a ruthless edge.
Young teams can thrive from a more dynamic leadership style but Cook is phlegmatic and sometimes a bit too reactive. In some sessions England have looked one step behind the game rather than one step ahead of it. In contrast Virat Kohli is a bustling, cajoling bundle of energy towards his team. Imaginative with field placings and a good understanding of when and how to attack and when and how to sit back and contain, Kohli looks a leader for the modern age. This is not to doubt Cook’s commitment or aptitude, just that in this series he has chased Kohli.
Of course Kohli has been helped by his own imperious form with the bat and that of his main spinner, Ravindra Ashwin.
Indeed it was the tall off-spinner who started England’s wobble in the morning by dismissing Ben Stokes in the fifth over. Stokes has struggled all series against Ashwin but to be fair this was an absolute beauty, a dipping, sharply spinning teaser that found the edge.
When Buttler swiftly followed it meant Moeen Ali, the first-day centurion, had to bat a lot longer. India changed tactics against him and peppered him with a few short balls. He fended a couple, flapped at a couple more and got hit under the armpit. He looked uncomfortable and succumbed with a pull shot caught in the deep. It was good captaincy by Kohli and well executed by his bowlers Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav.
If England are to compete and win they will need such specific plans and execution today.
It has been interesting to watch England throughout the tour. They always try their very best and are very hard working but coach Trevor Bayliss has started to become a bit more hands on in the dressing room.
With a glut of white ball cricket coming up England do not play another Test match for seven months. It might be some players here are trying to secure a place and a few others are looking a bit tired.
Whatever happens in the next few days, expect changes next summer. Indeed it might be that Joe Root emulates Kohli and so both countries have their best batsman as captain. It has to happen sometime.