A run of five defeats in seven winless Tests has challenged Joe Root’s naturally upbeat disposition but come the end of a memorable opening day at Headingley – the two-year anniversary of Ben Stokes and his Ashes miracle – the England captain’s smile was broad and masking nothing.
Over the course of three sessions on his home ground Root’s side dominated India and took an early grip on this pivotal third Test. First they rolled the tourists for 78 all out in 40.4 overs – Jimmy Anderson leading with figures of three for six – before closing on 120 for none from 42 thanks to a commanding response from Haseeb Hameed, 60 not out, and Rory Burns, unbeaten on 52.
It meant Root could spend his afternoon perched on the Dickie Bird balcony rather than fighting fire with the bat out in the middle. There was much for him to admire too, Hameed and Burns batting with elan in watery sunshine, nullifying India’s four-pronged pace attack and delivering England’s first century opening stand for over a year.
Burns even pulled Mohammed Siraj for a six into the Western Terrace, offering shades of the absent Stokes himself, while Hameed purred like the teenager of five years ago by slotting 11 fours. India, so dominant when taking a 1-0 lead last week, became ragged and their sorry day ended to the sound of ironic cheers when a stray throw added one more to the total.
This also provided Root with time to reflect on a near-perfect bowling performance that, along with Anderson, saw Ollie Robinson (two for 16), Craig Overton (three for 14) and Sam Curran (two for 27) all contribute.
The pitch was no snooker table – Virat Kohli elected to bat under a mix of cloud and blue sky – but there was plenty of assistance to reward the nagging lines they delivered and India subsequently failed to emulate.
There could be a temptation here to suggest that England were driven by revenge after that final day meltdown at Lord’s; that somehow Kohli’s men had poked the bear and were met with a fearsome response from a side who had spent a week stewing on that ill-judged bouncer plan to India’s tail and the verbals that flew in both directions.
Certainly they corrected some of the mistakes of that fateful morning. The short ball was used sparingly as a fuller length from Robinson, Overton and Curran after lunch claimed the final six wickets for just 22 runs. Overton and Curran both found themselves on hat-tricks too, only for 16,000 sighs to follow on both occasions.
But more simply this day was defined by Anderson, one of the finest exponents of the moving ball, setting the standard in obliging conditions, with the support cast following suit and a touring side unable to cope. Excellence of execution, rather than some collective flexing of muscle, felt more at play as the wickets tumbled. It was a similar story when it was England’s turn to bat.
Anderson once said he used to hate Headingley and upon arrival his first thought was to “turn round and go home”. But since switching to the Football Stand End in 2015 a previous bowling average of 41 on this side of the Pennines has plummeted. Here, after Kohli won his first toss in nine Tests on English soil, he delivered an immaculate eight-over spell of five maidens and three wickets.
This was no morning for late arrivals, Anderson striking with his fifth ball when KL Rahul was suckered into a loose drive that set Jos Buttler on his way to becoming just the second wicketkeeper, after Australia’s Brad Haddin in 2014, to catch the first five dismissals of a Test innings. Cheteshwar Pujara was then tormented by a string of inswingers before an outswinger tickled a second edge.
It meant the latest instalment of the Kohli-Anderson duel had begun early. Suddenly the bars were empty and the crowd was captivated. But come drinks the show was already over, a wobble-seam delivery from Anderson having jagged away and met the edge of a checked drive for another simple Buttler take. Kohli was gone for seven, his international century drought having extended to 50 innings, and his tormentor was celebrating like this was very much his backyard.
All the while Rohit Sharma had been batting with purpose and for the best part of an hour, from 21 for three, he and Ajinkya Rahane resisted as Anderson took a breather. But with just two balls to negotiate before lunch, Sharma could be seen looking up to the heavens from the non-striker’s end, Rahane having poked at a fifth-stump ball from Robinson on 16 to leave India 56 for four.
Having missed the back end of the session to see to a thumb injury, Root returned and what followed made any lingering pain disappear. The fact he didn’t even need to return to Anderson said plenty too; Robinson profiting from Rishabh Pant’s lazy waft behind after the resumption before Overton and Curran shut things down handsomely.
Key to this was the removal of Rohit Sharma who, after 104 balls of stoicism but with the scoreboard stagnant, attempted to pull Overton, only to cloth the ball to mid-on for a top score of 19. Six down, India’s tail had begun but this time the heroes of Lord’s were knocked over for a couple of golden ducks and four wickets fell with the score on 67.
Mohammed Shami edged his first ball from Overton to slip and Jasprit Bumrah was trapped lbw by Curran after the left-armer had dispensed with Ravindra Jadeja in similar fashion. Once Overton had removed Siraj it was over to Hameed and Burns, the pair delivering the type of response that has felt beyond English batsmen in recent times.
Headingley is the scene of miracles, of course, so it is unwise to declare any match here to be done. But one day into this third Test it is fair to say the mood has shifted significantly, both for Root and a team looking to square the series with two to play.