Joe Root’s century hands England initiative on opening day in Rajkot

Moeen Ali closes opening day of first India Test on 99 not out with tourists in control

Joe Root’s century helped give England the upper hand in the opening day of the first test against India in Rajkot. Photograph: AP/Rafiq Maqbool

Joe Root’s century helped give England the upper hand in the opening day of the first test against India in Rajkot. Photograph: AP/Rafiq Maqbool

 

The new old guard showed the way. Joe Root, gliding to his 11th Test century, and Moeen Ali, in his latest habitat as an England batsman at No5, soothed the first-day nerves of the England dressing room with a telling partnership of 179.

England now have two 100-Test veterans in their side at No1 (Alastair Cook) and at No11 (Stuart Broad) for the first time, but beyond them they now look to Root and Moeen to guide them towards tranquil waters. They sit on the front row of the team photograph; they are now the experienced ones, who are supposed to exude calmness to the novices. And here they did, ensuring that England were able to capitalise upon Cook’s good fortune in winning the toss by finishing on 311-4.

They joined forces straight after lunch, about 55 minutes before America had a new president, with the tourists in danger of squandering the flattest surface they have encountered this winter. By then Root has already cruised to 35, mostly from silky drives against the spinners – and often against the spin. He had been in long enough to recognise that there were first innings runs out there. The surface was a far cry from the sandpits of Chittagong and Dhaka so a major first innings score was essential.

Root duly delivered his century, his first in Asia, before he was out in mildly controversial circumstances caught and bowled by Umesh Yadav for 124. There was doubt and much subsequent debate over whether Yadav had sufficient control of the ball before embarking upon an ill-advised celebration. Moeen, after a scare on nought when an edge off Ravi Ashwin almost carried to short-leg, was at his felicitous best, which is when he provokes comparisons with David Gower and he was still there at the close on 99 not out with Ben Stokes on 19.

In the morning the focus was upon the new generation of English batsmen rather than the old sweats in the middle order. For a while Haseeb Hameed looked the more secure of the opening batsmen. Cook was dropped twice before he had reached 2, hard chances but the sort caught by a team riding the crest of a wave.

Hameed looked composed and soon pushed a single to extra-cover for his first Test run. Then there was a flirtatious cut over the slips followed by a better one past gully. Hameeb is a cool customer but there was no ice in his veins yesterday morning. There followed several sweet cover-drives, which must have impressed his captain. He looked composed, even when dropped at slip on 13: maybe he will be the one to outlast Cook.

However Hameed’s umpiring capabilities may be faulty – for which he should not be held culpable at this stage of his career. Immediately after drinks Cook attempted to turn a delivery from Ravindra Jadeja on the leg-side. He was given lbw by umpire Chris Gaffney and after a brief consultation with his partner Cook decided not to review. The replay revealed the ball to be missing his leg-stump.

There was a little partnership between Hameed and Root when it was not always immediately obvious which one of them was on strike, which must reflect well on the debutant. But when Hameed was given lbw pushing forward to Ashwin, bowling around the wicket, he displayed more confidence than judgment. Umpire Dharmasena’s decision was upheld.

Next came Ben Duckett, who demands constant attention. After brief reconnaissance he took three boundaries from an Ashwin over via two sweeps and a flat-batted cover drive. But at the moment Duckett attacks better than he defends. Just before lunch he was caught at slip off Ashwin and one could sense the analysts around the world making their notes. This dismissal was reminiscent of his first in Test cricket in Chittagong against Mehedi Hasan. An off-break pitching on his leg stump turned and defeated him a little too easily. Duckett ensures that his right leg is out of the way, which is important in the DRS era. But when defending on turning pitches he does not necessarily obey the dictum of getting as close to – or as far from – the pitch of the ball as possible.

After lunch Root and Moeen were busy, allowing just one maiden in the session, yet they also shunned risks. They ran well together while adding 107 in 31 overs. This was a breeze compared to batting in Dhaka, however awesome the recent records of the Indian spinners. They expanded their repertoire a little after tea. Root came down the pitch top hit Jadeja for a straight six, Moeen lofted Ashwin to the leg side boundary three times, thus confirming the trustworthiness of the surface.

Virat Kohli hoped for reverse swing and there was a little especially for Yadav – by now Mohammed Shami was often clutching his right leg and running in gingerly. Then Yadav induced that aerial straight drive from Root; he held the catch, started to throw the ball up, then to his horror he realised it was now out of his grasp. As the ball was falling to the ground he made a desperate attempt to appear nonchalant.

Root had started off for the pavilion, but then hesitated and inevitably the on-field umpires sought help from their colleague in the pavilion, Rod Tucker. The slow motion replays did Root no favours; the ball seemed to be in the bowler’s hands for ages. It was probably a decision best taken by those standing in the middle. Memories of Herschelle Gibbs “dropping” Steve Waugh – and the World Cup at Headingley semi-final of 1999 flooded back, but on this occasion the batsman had to go. Afterwards Root was only annoyed with himself.

(Guardian service)

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