Joe Root fell 10 short of adding another 100 to his overnight score, but that wouldn’t bother either him or England as the captain’s 536-minute marathon knock (218) took the visitors to a position of strength at the end of Day II of the opening Test at Chennai’s MA Chidambaram Stadium.
Courtesy Root’s second double century in three Tests in Asian conditions, a feat few England captains have achieved, and Ben Stokes’s brisk 82, England piled up 555 for the loss of eight wickets at stumps on Saturday. And as Stokes said later, they would be looking to bat for another hour or so on Day III, which suggests they don’t wish to bat again in this game.
“There were no thoughts whatsoever of a declaration (on Saturday) because I’ll be stupid to think that way. If you win the toss and bat first, you just get as many runs as you can out here in India,” Stokes said during a virtual interaction.
“And if we can bat for another hour tomorrow (Sunday), we would be very happy.”
To be fair to the Indian bowlers, barring the 19 no-balls they bowled with spinners accounting for as many as eight of them, they did keep toiling, especially Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Ravichandran Ashwin, on a track that still looks good for batting.
Yes, Stokes was dropped twice in the day’s first session, while an opportunity to run Root out with the England skipper still some distance away from his 200 was also squandered owing to a poor throw from Washington Sundar.
Making the most of the two reprieves, though they were both tough chances, Stokes too swept, reverse-swept and latched on to anything in his zone with authority in his first Test match after six months.
India’s spinners aimed to pitch the ball on the footmarks, coming over the wicket. But that hardly troubled the left-hander.
Such was the dominance shown by Stokes during the fourth-wicket stand of 124 with Root, India were fortunate that he mistimed one and perished at the deep when he was looking good for a big score.
But with Root rooted at one end, India’s chances of restricting England to within 500 were dashed. His drives looked even more majestic on the day with his double hundred too coming in style, when he launched Ashwin over wide mid-on for maximum.
“It makes us all feel pretty rubbish how easy he makes batting look,” quipped Stokes. “I don’t think half the England batsmen ever play spin the way he does.”
Ishant’s late strikes, when he castled Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer off successive deliveries, did give India something to cheer about. “On this kind of track when you get quick wickets, it does uplift the team,” said spinner Shahbaz Nadeem.
Both Ishant and Bumrah got the ball to reverse, while some deliveries from spinners also created doubts in the batsmen’s minds towards the fag end of the day. India would only hope the pitch doesn’t behave too strangely from hereon.