India on top despite England fightback

ON FIRE: India’s Jasprit Bumrah (right) celebrates with team-mates after dismissing England opener Keaton Jennings on the opening day of the fourth Test at Southampton on Thursday. AFP

Indian pacers made a rousing start to the fourth Test to leave England in ruins but a little man named Sam Curran battled through the wreckage to lend the hosts a semblance of respect.

Jasprit Bumrah (3/46) and Ishant Sharma (2/26) set the tone initially with a rip-roaring opening act to knock out England’s top order before lunch, leaving them reeling at 36/4. Mohammed Shami (2/51) then took over the baton from the two with a mesmerising show in the second session to have England wobbling at 139/6.

Curran, returning to the side after being forced to sit out in the previous game, then gave the sullen Aegeas Bowl crowd and the England dressing room something to cheer about with a pugnacious 136-ball 78 (8x4, 1x6). His tenacious knock, which included a counter-attacking 81-run seventh-wicket stand with Moeen Ali (40, 85b) and a 63-run ninth-wicket partnership with Stuart Broad (17), ensured England posted 246.

Before the Curran carnage, Bumrah and Ishant made the England top order dance to their tunes with a hostile spell of bowling from both ends that’s becoming a feature of this Indian pace battery. Bumrah harried the England batsmen with disconcerting pace, bounce and probing line while veteran Ishant tormented them with his exceptional accuracy. 

Apart from hitting the right spots continuously on a juicy first day pitch that made life extremely difficult for the England top order, they lured them into their doom with guile. They constantly kept taking the ball away from them before letting one rip back in to catch them flat-footed. Bumrah opened the floodgates with such a piece of trickery against Keaton Jennings.

Normally used to taking the ball away from the left-handers, thanks to his natural angle, Bumrah unleashed a new weapon in his arsenal with a ball that swung back into Jennings. The opener, stunned and shocked by the ball, offered no shot that made him a sitting duck for the LBW appeal.

Ishant then sent skipper Joe Root back with a sharp in-swinger after setting him up with away balls before Jonny Bairstow left in a hurry as well to another beautiful ball from Bumrah. And when Alastair Cook perished to a superb catch from Virat Kohli at third slip, England were staring down the barrel.

Things went from bad to worse when Shami procured extravagant movement in the second session. Not only did he make life difficult for Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler but wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant, who at times had to collect the ball at first slip. Shami expectedly snapped both Stokes and Buttler as India were all over England like a bad rash.

Ali and Curran refused to cave in though. Realising attack is the best form of defence against such relentless bowling, they chanced their arm initially to frustrate India. Step by step they kept rebuilding in conditions that turned favourable for batting. India too didn’t switch to defence and attacked from both ends as runs came in a hurry.

Ali’s live by the sword and die by the sword mantra resulted in his doom, holing out to Bumrah after trying to slog Ashwin. Curran though kept blasting at the other end to take England past the 200-run mark. He didn’t spare any bowlers, laying siege to everyone. Ashwin did bowl him at the end but by them, he had done his bit. India then took stumps at 19/0.

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India on top despite England fightback

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