Skipper Joe Root continued to torment the Indian spinners with a majestic double century that placed England in a commanding position and scuttled home team’s chances of enforcing a favourable result in the first Test at Chennai’s MA Chidambaram stadium on Saturday. England ended the day two at an intimidating 555 for eight, built around Root’s 218 that was result of a near nine-hour effort in which he faced 377 balls.
Root became the first cricketer to score a double hundred in his 100th Test but more importantly it was an innings that will be archived for future generations as a ready reference on how to play spin on Indian pitches.
The pace of his innings on the second day was a bit in contrast to how he played on the first day when he was the enforcer and Dom Sibley the grafter.
On the second morning, it was Ben Stokes who entered the stage and made it his own with big hitting. He smashed 82 off 118 balls with 10 fours and three sixes and let Root rotate the strike in their 124-run stand.
Worse, England didn’t declare after being well past 500 which was like driving home a point and piling on the misery on an Indian team which has now been shaken up on a track where nothing happened for two days.
While Root will be lauded for sure for his second double hundred in last three Test matches, it was Stokes, whose counter-attack deflated the home team.
He started by coming down and lofting Ravichandran Ashwin over long for a six and then used the giant stride to slog sweep the senior off-spinner for a boundary.
In fact, Ashwin (2/132), who was brilliant over two days, was only a bit rattled when Stokes gave him the charge. Although Root hit Ashwin for two sixes — the second one bringing up his fifth career double hundred for the England captain — it was Stokes who gave him and the other spinners a big charge.
Also the only one who played Ishant Sharma with some degree of confidence was Stokes. While Root defended well against the veteran pacer, it was Stokes, whose on-drive and square drive off successive deliveries from the pacer did change his skipper Virat Kohli’s facial complexion, which remained grumpy for the most part of the day.
Ishant (2/52) bowled as best as he had in any unfavourable conditions, something that the scoreboard wouldn’t perhaps tell. The veteran of 98 Tests finally got a couple of wickets at the fag end of the day but his performance with old ball on one of the flattest tracks will be remembered for a long time.
The pace never dropped even when he was well past bowling his 20th over as the tattered old ball would consistently tail in. But Ishant, Ashwin and Jasprit Bumrah (2/81)’s good work was undone once again by rookie Washington Sundar.
And Shahbaz Nadeem (2/167) for all his experience at the domestic level for a decade and half, probably understood that he probably is a bit less-skilled when facing a team full of quality players of spin.
His wickets column would read that he had got Stokes and Root but it was well after they had accomplished what they had set out to do. Root and Stokes showed how to stay low and try and take the ball below the eye-line.
Since the duo couldn’t build a lot of pressure from one end, the onus was always on either Ashwin or Ishant or Bumrah to strike and keep the pressure.
Root’s strike-rate against pacers was in mid-30s and against spinners, it was in the high 70s, underlining his dominance against Washington and Nadeem.
They gave away easy singles and doubles to Root, who scored 130 runs in singles, doubles and that odd triple apart from hitting 19 boundaries and two sixes.
And not to forget the runs that he had to run for his various batting partners during the course of the England innings.
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