Rain slows England’s progress in Manchester
Joe Root unbeaten on 48 as England stretch lead to 85 over India
A large puddle on the outfield at Old Trafford that eventually ended play on day two of the third Test between England and India. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images
Until the rain arrived at Old Trafford a little more than half an hour after lunch the game had moved on significantly, and largely to the advantage of England. Some excellent bowling by the Indian seamers, mixing movement and aggression to a nice balance, saw them take the morning session, the first such success they had managed since they bowled England out to win the second Test at Lord’s.
Later, however, an unbroken stand of 67 between Joe Root (48 not out) and Jos Buttler (22 not out) ensured that the gap between the teams had already widened to an extent that, providing the pitch continued playing as it has been, and the atmospheric conditions stayed much the same, would place them as favourite to go on and win the match, weather permitting.
When the predicted rain shower arrived, however, it proved torrential, the downpour lasting for more than an hour, and sufficiently heavy at one stage for one end of the ground to be all but obliterated from the other. In no more than 15 minutes, the outfield transformed into a lake, of a kind that once upon a time would have had spectators on their way home and the players packing up their kit for the day.
This is the age of mega-drainage and super-soppers, however. The rain abated and then disappeared to be replaced by sunshine and the water quickly disappeared from most of the ground, except, crucially, the boundary areas in front of the stand at the Statham end, where the new drainage – that had worked well generally – has suffered from damage during necessary construction work last winter so that this part of the outfield remained an old fashioned quagmire. It was a mess. Play was abandoned at 5.40 with England on 237-6, a lead of 85.
England had begun the second day in a relatively healthy position, with seven first innings wickets in hand, although as yet, still 39 runs adrift of India’s 152 all out. However, the England bowlers – Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson in particular – had shown how tricky batting could be if the extravagant movement that they found in the air, allied to good carry through to the close catchers, could be properly harnessed.
India certainly began in better fettle than they had finished the previous evening, and it was immediately evident that the potential for swing had not disappeared overnight. Unsurprisingly, MS Dhoni began with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, a skilled purveyor of swing, and – on the basis perhaps that sooner or later he simply must get a wicket – Pankaj Singh, whose brief career to date had involved considerable toil and no reward.
Ian Bell got things moving by hitting Kumar to the offside boundary while Chris Jordan showed that he is more than just a token nightwatchman by pulling Pankaj sumptuously through midwicket for his first boundary.
Jordan’s innings was not to last however, for half an hour into the day Kumar bowled him a sluggish bouncer, which the batsman – eyes lighting up at the prospect of easy runs – thought to pull once more, only to mistime it to midwicket where Varun Aaron dived forward to take a looping catch. By then, Bell had reached his half century, from 63 deliveries, and was lining the ball up well, covering the swing and scarcely missing anything.
However, in Kumar’s over following the departure of Jordan, the bowler found two excellent deliveries, the first of which beat Bell’s probing blade and the next which feathered the edge to give Dhoni the simplest of catches.
The game was still in the balance, with Aaron now demonstrating the aggression and speed that has made him such a young pace bowling prospect for India, if – as it has proved so far in his career – an injury-prone one, victim of a desire to put his body absolutely on the line in pursuit of velocity.
India were now concentrating increasingly on using the short ball, determined no doubt to attempt to rattle Moeen Ali, whom they perceive to be vulnerable to that mode of attack. Moeen’s response was to pull Kumar successively to the boundary, the first of the two putting England into the lead.
Aaron, however, was generating good pace, and found one delivery that got Root into a tangle, hitting him flush on the helmet before ricocheting over the slips to the boundary. Then in his following over, a clever piece of aggression brought him Moeen’s wicket: a nasty short delivery, followed – from round the wicket to the left-hander – by a rapid full length ball, with the batsman beaten and bowled by the booming inswing. England were now only 18 runs ahead with just four wickets remaining, an insignificant margin. India were right in the thick of things.
But Root had started to play with sparky, wristy certainty. Lunch was reached without further loss and the lead now 49, and after the interval he and Buttler began to play with a little more freedom. Pankaj’s suffering continued when Buttler belted him through extra cover and then Root first of all under-edged an attempted cut that ran along the ground to the boundary, eluding Dhoni on the way, and then smeared a wide long hop to the ropes square of the wicket.
The manner in which Root then leaned back and – delicately – late cut Ravindra Jadeja to third man, would have had Bell purring.