The weather in England can be drunk at times. Thick cloud cover, heavy rainfall and bright sunshine – this is considered normal within the span of one day without as much as a blink of the eye. We witnessed it at Lord's, while India crashed to an innings and 159 runs.
As such, it was an odd twist of fate that the weather turned rogue at Trent Bridge on Sunday. The morning started with light drizzle, followed by heavy low-hanging cloud cover and then some sunshine. The difference? Well, India returned the favour to England from last week, and in some style.
Hardik Pandya took his maiden five-wicket haul in Test – yes, you read that right. In the build-up to this match, there had been a lot of chatter about India not picking the right side. One of the key components of their selection is picking the all-rounder, who many failed to spot. And for good reason, because Pandya's contributions with the bat – 90 runs in four innings before this match – were not enough to justify his number six batting spot whilst not anchoring his bowling performances either.
This is opinion from the outside though, and it doesn't matter in the least. Instead, the confidence this Indian dressing room has in Pandya is all that matters. It is seen in how the all-rounder is nearly un-droppable even when the captain is making all types of permutations and changes to the playing eleven. It was also seen in how Kohli exulted when Pandya took wickets at Lord's last Sunday.
A week later, it was seen again, albeit in a different light as Pandya – egged on by his teammates – raised the ball after taking his fifth wicket in the space of 29 balls. In doing so, he became the second-quickest Indian bowler to do so in Test cricket. Harbhajan Singh had done it in 27 balls against West Indies in 2006.
It is a meaningless comparison, yet underlines what Pandya did in conditions that favoured bowlers. He kept it simple, some television commentators would say, and let the ball do the talking. That's oversimplification, honestly. Mohammed Shami didn't keep it 'simple'; neither did Jasprit Bumrah, as both erred in their lines and lengths.
Ishant Sharma bowled a touch better, and fuller more importantly, as he hurt the English top-order. The Dukes ball usually starts working its magic around over 15, as batsmen from both sides have looked to make the new ball count. It is an odd departure from Test cricket norm that the top-order batsmen attack while the middle-order is left to fend off swing and seam.
The further oddity of it all is that Pandya is the one who made them hop, skip and jump. Joe Root was nicked off first ball – an astounding start to his spell, one that made for wonderment if there was something special in store today. Pandya is indeed that special cricketer – even if not acknowledged yet for his abilities – one who is picked to make all the difference.
As English batsmen walked back to the pavilion one by one, it was almost in agreement to that aforementioned factoid. And there is another one – in a post-lunch session that was extended twice, England lost 10 wickets for 101 runs. It was only the third time since 1938 that this has happened. It is even more surprising that such a collapse has happened thrice since 2016, underlining a certain weakness in the English batting order.
On this day, it was Pandya's turn to exploit them as he turned the game for India. Any batsman would have trouble in seam-friendly conditions when the bowlers hit the right line and lengths. James Anderson had said as much at Lord's last week after India were bowled out for 107, almost foretelling an English demise if similar conditions were laid out against their batsmen. A week later, Pandya – of all bowlers – made his words come true. Who would have thought that?
At the time of writing then, India finished the day 292 runs in overall lead. Building up from their 168-run advantage from the first innings, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul were able to express themselves more freely. The latter at one stage, was outscoring his partner and striking at 100-plus. It was staggering to see Cheteshwar Pujara overcome his poor patch and score with similar freedom.
For it was then that the clouds lifted and the sun came out at Trent Bridge for the first time on Sunday. Miles in every direction, you could only see the blue sky. It was a sharp reversal of fortunes from Lord's, and India made it count on their first day of proper dominance in this series. That Pandya wrote this script only justified Kohli's faith in him, never mind the chop and change selection policy. The captain is doing something right, at least!
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