Depending on which forecast you believe, and which proves most accurate, the tail-end of Hurricane Bertha could yet provided England’s biggest obstacle to taking a 2-1 lead in the series. The rain that wiped out the best part of two sessions on the second day of the fourth Investec Test was just a traditional summer deluge but interrupted a vibrant stand between Joe Root and Jos Buttler, which had helped England into a lead of 85, and left a corner of the ground saturated.
It was a much-needed partnership for the home side, who had been pegged back to 170 for 6 – an advantage of just 18 – during the morning session as India’s pacemen, especially Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Varun Aaron, made use of conditions similarly favourable to the first morning when the visitors found themselves in all sorts of strife.
When Moeen Ali’s off stump was uprooted by the impressive Aaron there was a good chance of India restricting England’s lead to something very manageable, but Root and Buttler added 67 in 18 overs either side of lunch before the heavy rain swept in. Puddles quickly formed and although the sun re-emerged, a severely waterlogged corner of the outfield – most of which had drained perfectly adequately – prevented further play and raised concerns about how it would cope with further downpours.
Before the rain, there was a good chance to assess another side of Buttler’s game. He was able to begin his Test career by walking in at 420 for 5 at the Ageas Bowl; what greeted him this time was a very different scenario. Given the conditions, both he and Root will probably not have been disappointed to have the first session finish with the twin spin of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja even though there was a hint of turn. An off-drive by Buttler in the penultimate over of the session was arguably the shot of the morning and he showed a tight technique.
There was clear urgency after the interval and the hard running by the pair forced errors in the field from India as they became a little ragged. Despite the time lost, and the likelihood of further interruptions – Saturday is best forecast of the remaining days – the game is already reasonably advanced, with the bowlers having been on top. Also, the pitch is not expected to lose its life and if skies remain overcast the quicks should continue to prosper providing players can get on the field.
The opening session had been enthralling, nip-and-tuck Test cricket. India were a little flat in the first half an hour, perhaps a hangover from a difficult first day, as Aaron, who caught the eye with his pace on the previous evening, was held back from the attack. Pankaj Singh shared the early work with Bhuvneshwar but still could not claim a maiden Test wicket; instead he had to endure seeing an inside edge from Chris Jordan narrowly miss the stumps.
Jordan, one of the higher-quality nightwatchmen you will see, fell to a short delivery from Bhuvneshwar which he could not keep down and Aaron took an excellent low catch, to his right, at midwicket. Bhuvneshwar bowled a touch shorter than is his ideal length and his main threat remained with the fuller deliveries.
One such ball snaked past Ian Bell’s edge before the next delivery grazed the bat as the batsman was drawn into playing a delivery he could have left. Bell had earlier passed fifty from 63 balls, but England were still trailing as he departed and India had created themselves an opportunity to balance the match.
Root and Moeen were given a testing examination by Bhuvneshwar’s swing and Aaron’s pace, which continued to nudge 90mph. Both bowlers challenged Moeen with the short delivery and while Bhuvneshwar was dealt with reasonably, Aaron caused problems and his set-up of Moeen from around the wicket was outstanding.
A well-directed short ball had Moeen sparring into the leg side as he was beaten for pace trying to pull, the ball taking the glove wide of short leg, and after Moeen had come back for a second run the next delivery was a spearing inswinger which went between bat and pad into off stump. Although it was not the short ball which took the wicket, it caused the wicket and the dismissal raised further questions about Moeen’s handling of that mode of attack.
India could claim to have won their first session since Lord’s, but such was the paltry total they had to defend that as soon as one partnership was threatening substance – as Root and Buttler did – England’s lead was soon becoming a concern.