hen Joe Root chose to bat having won what appeared an important toss in the Third Test, a day-nighter at Ahmedabad’s monstrous Motera Stadium, he surely did not imagine Jofra Archer — and his batting average of exactly eight — walking out early in the second session on day one.
But there England were, having lost their top six for just 81, five of those wickets to spin on a pitch already turning plenty. The last four, including key men Joe Root and Ben Stokes, and Zak Crawley, who had made a lovely 53, had fallen for seven runs either side of the break. The large crowd were cock-a-hoop.
No one does a collapse quite like England in the subcontinent, and the positives were thin on the ground.
There was Crawley’s knock, and the knowledge that their four seamers were set to get a bowl at twilight (although they might have preferred to be doing it on day two). In England’s last day-night Test, they were bowled out for 58 in the first innings, so this represented an improvement. Oh, and by making 11, Archer’s average rose to 8.15.
It was India’s spinners doing the damage, and the ball was spinning sharply. But England’s batsmen were falling lbw and bowled to the balls that were not turning, showing that Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel are deep in their minds after a Second Test in which they were bowled out for 134 and 164.
While those two shared nine wickets as England were bowled out for 112, the tourists picked just one spinner as the make up of the teams’ bowling attacks diverged wildly for the first time in the series. India retained the balance of two seamers, to exploit the pink ball, and three spinners, to exploit the dry pitch.
England, by contrast, have gone all in on the pink ball, shifting from three seamers and two spinners to four and one respectively. James Anderson and Stuart Broad are paired together for the first time this winter, with Archer asked to provide some oomph.
With Moeen Ali at home and Dom Bess out of favour, Jack Leach will plough a lone furrow when it comes to spin bowling. It appears Mark Wood and Chris Woakes were as close to playing as Bess. It was hard to escape the sense that if Moeen Ali was still in India, he would have played. England clearly feel they are lacking the necessary resources to play on dry pitches.
In doing so, England lengthened their tail, with Archer in at No8. By bringing in spinner Washington Sundar for Kuldeep Yadav, India strengthened their lower order batting.
The two teams really did veer in different directions, but few thought England’s tail would be exposed quite this soon.
Crawley’s innings towered over the rest of England’s innings, in approach and outcome. He was the only player to be consistently positive, and look to attack. Root played a couple of fine strokes, Stokes lofted one punch and Archer landed a couple of slogs. Crawley, who had a top score of 13 in four innings in Sri Lanka, stroked 10 boundaries in his 84-ball stay, all elegant and in front of square. He threaded drives down the ground, through cover and midwicket, and reached his fifty with a cut. It was an innings that showed why England were so keen to get him back into the XI at the expense of Rory Burns as soon as he overcame a wrist injury.
The dropping of Burns is more significant than Dan Lawrence, who will come again. Having missed the tour of Sri Lanka as he became a father, Burns has struggled in his last two series, against Pakistan and India. He has thrived before in the last-chance saloon, when making a fine Ashes hundred at Edgbaston in 2019 when many would have dropped him, but England opted to take him out of the line of fire here.
Crawley was soon joined at the crease by Jonny Bairstow, who was also recalled for Lawrence, as Ishant Sharma celebrated his 100th Test with the wicket of Dom Sibley, caught at second slip. Bairstow also made a duck, falling to the first ball of spin bowled in the match, lbw to Axar. Bairstow was plumb, but bizarrely took a review with him.
Crawley shared 47 with Root, who made a rare misjudgment of length to Ashwin, and was lbw on the back foot. A couple of overs later, Crawley fell too. England made a disastrous return after lunch, losing Ollie Pope and Stokes in the first two overs of the session.
Archer was soon bowled and Leach caught at slip. Broad stuck with Ben Foakes as England waited for darkness to fall, but was soon gone slogging. Just halfway through day one. When Foakes was bowled, England were all out and in deep trouble.