Axar now has 20 wickets in just his third Test, having dismissed both England’s openers. With Joe Root also out, England had to recover from 30 for three with a steady partnership from Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes.
England pulled a selection surprise, shuffling out two of their four seamers (Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad) from the last Test and replacing them with a spinner, Dom Bess, and an extra batsman at No7, Dan Lawrence.
On first view, it looked like an over-correction, and the early impact of India’s seamers, Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Siraj (replacing Jasprit Bumrah in India’s only change), who found bounce, might have made England smile ruefully. They had too many seamers last week, and perhaps have too few now. Time will tell.
It was, almost inevitably, Axar who struck first. He took wickets with his first ball in both innings in the Third Test and only had to wait until his second delivery this time. Dom Sibley was the latest to be fooled by the straight ball, inside-edging onto his stumps.
In Axar’s next over, Zak Crawley looked to advance and hit a boundary down the ground for the second time. But, in a carbon copy of his first dismissal to Lasith Embuldeniya in Sri Lanka in January, Crawley simply holed out to mid-off. He has been dismissed by left-arm spin in all seven of his innings on tour.
That left England 15 for two, with Root in early again. Siraj swapped ends and, the ball after drinks, pinned him plumb lbw.
England were reeling at 30 for three, with Bairstow – who made a pair in the Third Test – joined by Stokes. Their partnership was boundary-heavy and saw Stokes exchange terse words with India captain Virat Kohli.