Some days the 3.15am alarm call is more welcome than others and today, with England nine wickets from a first victory in Chennai since Gatting and Fowler in 1984-85, four visits ago, and India 381 runs from an all but impossible highest run chase, the game is so nicely poised it puts a spring in one’s step, even on such a dark, frostbound morning as this.
England, by design, have 90 overs to bowl India out and their belief is that their spinners are good enough to do it, though Jofra Archer and Jimmy Anderson can contribute, too, on a two-faced pitch that is rewarding the spinners with bounce when the ball burst through the surface and the seamers with lifters and shooters.
Jon Lewis, England’s caretaker bowling coach, was om media duty last night and defended the decision to delay the follow on as well as boosting Jack Leach’s credentials as their potential matchwinner.
“I was so pleased Leachy got that wicket tonight,” he said. “I thought he really deserved that.”
“Every day as a cricketer you go out wanting five wickets or a hundred, but that doesn’t often happen.
“You are going to have more bad days than good days as a cricketer and you are going to have to deal with those. Jack showed his character with the way he came back after Pant got after him yesterday.
“He’s bowled an absolutely beauty to get out Rohit – who is obviously a class, class player – and looks a real threat on this pitch. He could walk away with four or five wickets tomorrow and we could win a Test match – I’m pretty sure people won’t be talking about Rishabh Pant’s first-innings runs if he does that.”
While England’s decision not to enforce the follow-on was widely expected, their refusal to declare even as their lead stretched past 400 was the cause of fierce external debate.
In the dressing room, the decision to bat on and effectively take an India victory out of the equation made perfect sense.
“It’s obviously first game of the series and whilst you want to get off to a really strong start, you don’t really want to give India a chance to win,” said Lewis.
“They have some fine players and you also want to have attacking fields all day, especially for our spin bowlers. So to get as many runs, to keep the rate high for them, feels like our best chance to win the game.
“We were very comfortable with the amount of overs we wanted to bowl and it obviously gives us a bit of a bite with the second new ball, if required.”