Sam Curran's second ball to KL Rahul was pitched up, outside off, and carrying enough width for the batsman's eyes to light up. He went for the drive, away from his body – inside edge, bowled. India had lost their second wicket in three balls.
Was it a surprising shot? Yes and no.
No, because Rahul is prone to playing loose strokes. He isn't your regular watchful opener – or a natural number three who drops anchor. He isn't your attacking opener like Shikhar Dhawan or Virender Sehwag either. The truth is somewhere in between, and at times he sways into the aggressive side a bit too much. Call it the T20 effect if you will, for this change came about in Rahul's bid to get selected in white-ball cricket. Consequently, more often than not, he does play loose strokes that prove costly.
Even so, it was surprising yes, because the above isn't really a plausible excuse. Test cricket is named so because the batsmen have to curb their instincts and play as per situation and conditions. Cricket history is rife with attacking batsmen buckling down and digging deep to adapt to Test cricket's demands.
So, should Rahul have left that wide delivery alone? Yes. But is that really the question to be asked here? No.
Instead, you want to ask where is Cheteshwar Pujara, the one batsman in this Indian team who can leave well. He is someone who will not play a full-blooded drive on the second ball he faces. Instead, when the ball is moving about, he will want to drop anchor and bat out time.
Cynics would argue about his record in England. Yes, he has been poor for Yorkshire. But isn't that what county cricket is all about? Getting used to the conditions so you can put that knowledge to use when it really does matter. Perhaps the question to ask is this – do Pujara's runs (or lack of) for Yorkshire matter more than those he scores for India?
Of course, there is this argument that Rahul isn't really the one Pujara has been dropped for. It is in fact Shikhar Dhawan, who always raises this debate before any overseas Test series. So, let us be honest here. He hasn't got a supportive argument on day two of the first Test in England either, despite starting well.
Why did he start well? Because James Anderson and Stuart Broad bowled full first up. That was the story of the first hour of India's innings as Dhawan put on a resolute 50-partnership with Murali Vijay. He played in the V, even as his right-handed partner did what he does best – leave as many deliveries as possible.
Vijay's dismissal (regular LBW against a left-arm pacer) didn't really trigger any alarm bells. Rahul's did, but then it was the responsibility of the settled batsman to go on and score a big one.
That's the underlying point here. Dhawan is never a settled batsman, not outside the sub-continent at least. He will get off to a start and get you ahead of the curve, but Test cricket comes back at you. There is so much time that the bowlers will assess conditions better and improve their lengths, and then you have to respond too. Dhawan played as straight as possible when they pitched it up full. As soon as Curran pulled his length back and found movement, Anderson followed suit. Since that moment, India did not have any answers.
Dhawan edged to slips.
Ajinkya Rahane, whom you would expect to do better in seaming conditions, edged to slips. Dinesh Karthik couldn't play a straighter incoming ball, after facing one that went away. Hardik Pandya edged to slips. Virat Kohli edged to slips. R Ashwin had no clue about Anderson's outswinger.
Do the math. That is India's entire batting line-up barring two batsmen (Vijay and Rahul). If the world's number one Test side is facing a stern examination this summer, then they failed their first Monday paper. That the score still managed to get very close England's 287 was down to some poor slip catching (three drops of Kohli and Pandya), and Kohli's late-blooming knock.
The skipper isn't one to let an opportunity (or two) go begging, and his 149 will allow the Indian bowling attack to sleep properly at night.
They had toiled hard on day one, tripping England from 216-3 to etch out the last seven wickets for 71 runs. Ask Ashwin and Mohammed Shami – two bowlers who have waited for some form of redemption. The spinner was chided for poor performances in the 2013-14 overseas cycle, but armed with more experience now, he has given a good account of the bowler he is today in both South Africa and England already.
Shami's timeline was shorter but his troubles have been far greater. A massive landslide in personal life, and lack of fitness, has bugged him this whole year. And yet, he turned up on day one of the series, something that he didn't do throughout the South African tour.
In their respective progress lie India's hopes for the remainder of this Test – and the series – despite that plane-crash of a batting effort at Edgbaston on Thursday.
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