Hyderabad: The Indian spin troika rudely nudged England’s tradition-resisting plunderbats back to reality while limiting them to 215 for eight at tea in their first innings on the opening day of the first Test here on Thursday.
Captain Ben Stokes (43 batting) and Mark Wood (7 batting) are keeping the visitors above the water.
In the morning, Stokes decided to bat first in the hope of making the most of a fresh surface before it gets ragged.
But his batters were woefully equipped to challenge Ravichandran Ashwin (2/55), Ravindra Jadeja (3/75) and Axar Patel (2/33) on a pitch that offered them turn and grip as early as from the ninth over.
Ashwin set in motion the process of dismantling England’s batting order in that over, though it was more of a result of Ben Duckett (32) playing for non-existent spin.
The 37-year-old managed to skid one on to beat Duckett’s defence to hit his pads.
Umpire Chris Gaffaney did not have to think long before raising his finger, and even a review could not save Duckett as England’s opening stand ended at 55.
It was also, perhaps, the most reassuring phase in England’s innings as they were able to give a peek into their ‘Bazball’ approach while scoring at five runs an over.
In fact, they milked 25 runs from the first four overs bowled by pacers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj.
But once that partnership was broken, England failed to press on against Indian spinners as Ollie Pope, Zak Crawley, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow stumbled badly.
Axar castled Bairstow with a peach after the England batter failed to cover the spin and the ball crashed on to the top of off-stump.
It also signalled the end of a 61-run alliance for the fourth wicket between Bairstow and Root, as it kept England afloat for a while even though not in the most assured manner.
However, the dismissal of Root would haunt the visitors the most among all the other dismissals. Root is one batsman in the English line-up who can counter spin well, but here his approach was too pre-meditative to be successful.
The former captain kept on sweeping the spinners and Jadeja hit a fuller length which resulted in a top-edge to short fine leg where Jasprit Bumrah did not have to strain himself much to complete the catch.
Ben Foakes has this reputation of being a fine player of spin but on this day only struggle was visible as he departed with a 24-ball four, offering a simple catch to KS Bharat behind the wickets off Axar.
It left captain Stokes, who employed conventional and non-conventional sweeps to counter spin, to wage a lonely battle in the company of tailenders and even looked solid during his stay in the middle as well.
But then on dire occasions like the one England encountered here, even a lion-hearted warrior like Stokes can only add a modicum of respectability to the total.